Twenty years ago, it would have been a nervy, hip booking: a 1950s, street-trained, Bronx-bred Italian-American singing R&B-influenced; pop, and an ethereal, flowery Scotsman singing hippie anthems on the same bill.
But in 1987, the idea of putting Dion and Donovan in the same concert is less bold; most of the fans who filled about half of the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday night simply came to see a pair of golden oldsters, which meant the evening was less a case of clashing cultures than simply another night of fondly remembered Music for the "Big Chill" Generation.
Still, it was easy to see who came out on the short end of the inevitable comparisons: Armed only with an acoustic guitar, the fragile, soft-spoken Donovan, 41, didn't stand a chance against Dion's brash manner and full-bodied band. That's not to say Donovan didn't have his moments: songs such as "Catch the Wind" and "Season of the Witch" have an enduring charm, and he told a winning story about writing "Hurdy Gurdy Man" while visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India along with "four Beatles, one Beach Boy and Mia Farrow."
Dion, though, turned in an exemplary oldies show in his first local appearance in more than a decade. Though his voice faltered on a couple of ballads, the 48-year-old veteran sang tough, committed versions of a dozen Top 40 hits, from "I Wonder Why" to "Abraham, Martin and John" to a rendition of "A Teen-ager in Love" that raised the roof (though there couldn't have been more than a handful of teens in the building).
Best of all, he delivered a humorous, touching monologue about growing up in New York, then segued not into an expected oldie, but into his bittersweet, corny but extraordinarily affecting 1978 ballad "I Used to Be a Brooklyn Dodger," helping turn what could have been a rote evening of hits into a moving piece of musical autobiography.