- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

Sunshine Superman morphed into Bohemian Batman right before our eyes in Alexandria Wednesday night.

This was not your father’s Donovan show — it was your grandfather’s Donovan show.

But it was cool, man — way cool. You dig?

Flanked by banners of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and an image of the Sacred Feminine (that’s a naked woman with spiritual quality, for you non-hipsters), Donovan did his best to engage in a little time travel, taking the sold-out house back to his pre-folk-rock days and transforming the Birchmere into a 1960 beat cafe for much of the evening.

Donovan and his three-piece backing band filled the joint with syncopation, poetry and funny first-person narratives that strung together the songs with tales of what it was like to be 15 years old in London and riding the first waves of a coming cultural revolution. He recalled pubs “filled with hash smoke, the guys dressed in corduroy trousers, Hush Puppies and checkered shirts, the girls in deathly pale makeup, black mascara and long dark hair.”

The concert, 2 hours long without intermission, featured six or seven songs from Donovan’s new “Beat Cafe” album, easily his best recording since the mid-1970s. It features the dream-team rhythm section of Danny Thompson on bass and Jim Keltner on drums.

The young San Francisco jazz trio filling in on tour can’t match the chops of Mr. Thompson and Mr. Keltner, but they were fine on most of the numbers and clearly were more at home with the new material and on Donovan classics that have a jazzier bent. The latter included near-perfect takes of “Season of the Witch” and “There Is a Mountain.”

Donovan opened the show with five solo numbers, including “Sunny Goodge Street,” “Catch the Wind” and “Colours.” The latter two songs did not benefit from having their tempos slowed. The band then joined Donovan for “Sunshine Superman” before opening a set of new material, beginning with the title track from “Beat Cafe.”

“Love Floats” followed, another hypnotic, seductive slice of beat groove and sway. “Poor Man’s Sunshine” also impressed, as did what must be the most unusual rendition ever of Dylan Thomas’ immortal “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” done to a beatnik jazz arrangement.

Donovan’s other old hits, “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” all got the full-band treatment as well, although the latter suffered a minor breakdown midsong.

Donovan, solo again, played riffs on a bamboo flute through what sounded like a phase shifter while reciting poetry by William Butler Yeats. He offered an open microphone to any aspiring poets in the audience, and one man took him up on the offer, reading his poem “The Great Effort.”

Donovan ended the show by urging the audience to “challenge hypocrisy and greed” and then refused to leave the stage until the soundboard man played Miles Davis’ version of “Nature Boy” on the PA system.

You can’t get cooler than that.

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