Excellent Shawn Phillips concert in Toronto

Posted on Fri Apr 4 2008 at 10:38 am in the category Concert reviews, Phillips, Shawn -- Copyright notice

A while back I blogged on what I considered a forgotten album, which I had found in a bargain bin at the local record store (also see my post on his use of the sitar). I had never heard of Shawn Phillips, despite the fact that his Second Contribution (1969) was certified platinum. Sure I was young in 1969 (just born), but there are plenty of other albums I have from that year and before. I was amazed at this album and began to look into Shawn Phillips further, especially at his own website. There I discovered he now is a trained fireman and sea-rescuer (at the age of 65). I was surprised to find out that he was still touring and clicked on the link, only to find that he was coming to Toronto soon (playing solo)! That concert was last night at “Hugh’s Room“, a small venue in the Highpark area, and I went. I was not sure what to expect, but I was not disappointed in the least.

Shawn Phillips is still a charismatic and capturing performer! Phillips’ guitar playing in incredibly subtle and varied, as are his vocals, which range from the highest to the incredibly low. His vocal range, which is also emotionally evocative, was often noted by commentators in the past and is very noticeable on the albums I have so far (First Contribution [1969], Second Contribution [1969], and Faces [1972]). It is good to see that even forty years later he has not lost this incredible and often haunting voice.

These musical performances were accompanied by some of the most interesting and funny stories I have heard at a concert. Between pieces, Phillips discussed in an entertaining way personal anecdotes and stories ranging from his travels and career in the late-60s to his own current occupation as a sea-rescuer in South Africa. He also mentioned that he now has a live DVD-CD combination out called Shawn Phillips: Living Contribution, which you can purchase on his website, along with his earlier works.

Phillips played for over two hours, and the set included a range of pieces from the late sixties to the present (Phillips is still actively writing and playing, and he mentioned that he has written a total of over 1200 tunes over the years, if I heard him correctly). Phillips made use of about five guitars and his style of performance varied from one tune to the next, which is very desirable in a solo performance like this one. Perhaps most surprising was his sudden shift to a distorted Jimi Hendrix riff as a segue within one tune.

The highlights for me were his performance of several songs that I have become familiar with, including “Lovely lady” (from Contribution) and “The ballad of Casey Deiss” and “Woman of the land” (from Second Contribution). He also performed “Spaceman” from Collaboration (1971), “Blunt and frank” from Do You Wonder (1974), and “Lady in violet” from Transcendence (1978). Another unreleased tune was “Devil’s Highway”, which is based on Phillips’ reaction to the book with that title by Luis Alberto Urrea. Phillips told a story about first meeting Luis and their subsequent friendship. Doing a quick google, I now see a recent review of another Phillips concert by Luis Urrea himself.

I’m very glad I found that LP at the local record store a while back. You can find Phillips tour dates here.

Here is a 1989 (?) performance of “Ballad of Casey Deiss” from youtube:

There’s also a more complete version of that concert (30 minutes) here:

7 Responses to “Excellent Shawn Phillips concert in Toronto”

  1. Bill Says:

    I stumbled upon your blog and was quite surprised that you were reviewing Shawn Phillips “Second Contribution” album. This is a rare but spectacular album. I purchased the vinyl back in 1983 (and found it on CD about 10 years ago). I was able to see him in concert in 1984 in Duluth, MN. He’s a one man band with the ability to produce a very full and enriching sound. His voice is also quite amazing. Seeing him in concert was moving to say the least. I applaud your review and thank you for giving him some well deserved exposure almost 40 years later.

  2. Mark Says:

    Excellant review.
    I can date myself and say that I first hear Shawn when Contribution came out. After this purchase and the next 9 vinyl recordings; they are my most prized possessions. Though somewhat worn by repeated play, they would be the music I would wanted to be stranded on an island with. I saw Shawn at the DAR Constitution Hall in Wash DC. Shawn played with a full band and in between some songs, regaled the crowd with a story. It was wonderous concert and I often had to stop myself from singing along just to listen to the real master.

  3. pharland Says:

    Hello Mark,

    Thanks for posting those memories. I wish I had seen him in his younger days.


  4. pat nelson Says:

    hey Mark, I just saw Shawn Phillips at a private venue..awesome as always. I first saw Shawn at an open air concert in 1970 with Leon Russel, Loggins and Messina, and Malissa Manchester. I was a huge fan in the early 70′s ( at the ripe age of 13)then I got away from listening to my youth music. he was great and I lisen to second contribution once a day. thanks for doing this

  5. Steve Giacchino Says:

    My college years were 1968-1972. My roommate and I must have worn out the Second Contribution album. I introduced it to my wife ( a devote soul music fan ) and she loved it. What a unique and once in a generation voice. Hope to have the chance to see him in person. Thanks for posting. BTW, the entire CD is on my IPOD.

  6. NERA JAKSIC Says:

    I hope my message re shawn phillips reaches someone in cyberspace. I got introduced to this angel in 1971 by a boyfriensd with long red hair who luved shawn phillips. I was hooked instantly. After many years of change I moved on in life and shawn was left behind. after more than 30 years his name came tomy mind out of the blue and i casually looked up his name on computer. Once I saw that second contribution cd picture on computer i got tears and instantly regained my adoration for this angel after all these years. A gifted master who makes masterpeaces.

    luv u forever shawn.

  7. NERA JAKSIC Says:

    Here I am again nera jaksic. I have a story about shawn. Part of it is the unimagineable sadness to know shawn is not known worldwide like water and earth. Are U kidding. An angel of music and charism. I also believe there is some magic in that trademark long hair it has a voice of it’s own and shawn is not shawn without it. fans keep him in the light please let’s get him known. write me, nera.jaksic@gmail.com anything you have to say about shawn. Bless U all fans.