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 , Second Contribution , and Faces ). 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: