Van Morrison enthuses his fans
View on castle mountain inspires the grand old man: During the only German show of his European tour Van Morrison proved his artistic diversity – at the Ganter-Open-Air in Freiburg yesterday.
“Van the Man” remained true to himself: The Irish blues and rock interpreter who is on stage for more than 40 years met the taste of the audience and enthused 2100 visitors.
The Northern Irishman stood with hat and suit on stage, he played for just under 2 hours. The 61 years old singer and songwriters did not center his performance on his biggest hits. Instead he effortlessly altered musical styles. From rock he went over to blues, from soul to jazz.
He not only focused on his unmistakable voice, but also resorted to saxophone, trumpet (?????) and harp.
“These days, I’m doing what I like to do”, the musician said, whose full name is George Ivan Morrison. For his current European tour he has chosen “stages with atmosphere”. In Freiburg he played in the patio of the Ganter brewery. From the stage he looked onto the vineyards at the castle mountain. Apparently because the mood was right, Morrison played longer than planned: “I felt good”, he said. That wasn’t always so: During the 70s Morrison suffered from stage fright. During former tours he several times shortened his performances and left the stage earlier. Nevertheless, his fans remained true to him over the years.
As frontman of the rock band Them Morrison had hits like “Gloria”, “Here Comes the Night” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in the 60s. As a solo artist he was in the charts with “Brown-Eyed Girl” and the duet with Cliff Richard “Whenever God Shines His Light On Me”. The smash hit “Have I Told You Lately” that Rod Stewart had in the 90s is also Morrison’s song. Morrison tours Europe until the beginning of December. A show in the US metropolis New York is also planned.
Van’s first concert in Freiburg. And my first concert with Van.
The knowledgeable Van fan – called Vanatic – may find this concert review a bit annoying: as a “newcomer” in this community I wouldn’t tell the nuances of recent gigs in Montreux, Glastonbury or Toronto.
What I try to do, however, is to describe what this evening in Freiburg meant to me. And maybe this brings back your memory of what it was like for you when you went “into the music” with Van: “I look upon the world anew and know what’s truly real ..:”
The “Van bug” hit me earlier this year in spring for the first time. Not being aware of the consequences, my husband Uwe discovered “Astral Weeks” on cd in a record shop. Until then, we had several Van Morrison cds of the recent years and liked his music – not more.
After listening to “Astral Weeks” on my new iPod nothing was the same any more – you could even say it changed my life. In the following months Uwe (who has caught the bug in a lighter version, so to speak) succeeded to buy all missing Van cds of the past 43 years. Most of them on Internet auction as used ones as they are out of print these days.
Today around 40 albums with more than 450 songs make my iPod overflow and make me listen to Van each and every day – there is so much left to hear and it’s too late to stop now … A totally new world of great music has opened up to me. And I had to become 50 years old for this experience.
And now Van live in Freiburg – my first live concert with him. Considering the previous months one can imagine how I felt while waiting for it. Sure, I was looking forward to it and couldn’t hardly wait for the day to come. On the other hand – I dreaded it a bit as well: What if my expectations were too high ? Maybe the sound would be horrible, lots of rain to pour down (open air !), Van’s voice barely audible behind the band, he being in bad shape or mood, grumpier than ever ? Or maybe the worst: would it be a mere routine performance without any passion ?
Before I could find any more reasons for sleepless nights, finally the day arrived.
After driving down the 800 km distance from Hamburg to Freiburg the day before the concert we had time to explore the beautiful medieval town of Freiburg in the most southwestern part of Germany, close to the French and Swiss border. We strolled through the colourful farmer’s market and climbed up the 253 steps to the cathedral tower, giving us exercise and overview. The weather looked promising – sunshine, no dark clouds in sight.
Prior to the show we met with some other Van fans in a beer garden close to the Ganter brewery where the concert would take place. Never having met other “Vanatics” before we really enjoyed talking to Harm and his wife (unfortunately I forgot her name – sorry!), with Wolfgang and Jutta, Günter and Rolf. Chatting about music and laughing at funny stories from previous gigs, time went by easily.
Being new in this community we got a briefing from the others: Don’t expect a concert longer than 90 minutes – Van will start exactly on time and close 90 minutes (plus or minus 5 minutes) later. He will not approach the audience directly, no chatting, no contact, no thank you. Well, this is not really encouraging, is it ? But of course I had read a lot of reviews on the internet previously and knew about that … And as I was quite nervous whether Van would really show up I was being assured: he has never canceled a concert recently …
There was some confusion about start time of the concert. Information varied between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Finally, the pre-show started with Van’s guests Shirley Grimes and the Insiders around 6:30. So we knew Van would not be on stage before 8:00 p.m.
The venue seemed a bit odd for me as a newcomer – the experienced Van fans confirmed they had the same feeling when they heard the concert would take place in the centre court of a brewery – does not really sound like an appropriate location for a celebrity like Van … And in fact it looked a bit provincial and prosaic: in the backyard of a brewery where usually beer-barrel loaded vans (!) are parking a provisional stage and folding seats were set up, surrounded by factory walls – by far not as romantic as the Glastonbury Abbey venue, I assume.
Shirley Grimes delivered 10 songs, one of them a-capella. The Irish singer lives in Switzerland. I would describe her style as a mix of Irish folk, pop and R&B. Nice, but nothing exceptional to my opinion. The audience applauded politely, one bold voice even shouting for encores … What we did not get, of course, as the stage had to be prepared for Van from now on.
No surprise: to the minute at 8:00 p.m. Van appears on stage together with his band members. It was a 9-piece band, unfortunately I did not comprehend their names. Assuming that there was no change since the recent gigs there they were Ned Edwards on e-guitar, Sarah Jory on steel guitar, Paul Moran on keyboard and piano, Neal Wilkinson on drums, ? on bass, Crawford Bell on trumpet and Tony Fitzgibbon on violin with Karen Hamill and Janeen Daly as background singers.
First song was “Did Ye Get Healed”, often used as a starter, as I read. Van was blowing on the saxophone on this one and the next two songs to come – great, considering that he has currently no sax player in this band. At the end of this concert he had played himself sax on seven of the songs in total. His voice was powerful and unique as anticipated and definitely gives you the creeps hearing it live for the first time …
The band members played lots of brilliant solos on the songs to follow: there were violin and steel guitar solos on “Only A Dream” and “Back On Top”. “Bright Side Of the Road” sounded new and crisp regardless of being 28 years old, with banjo background and violin solo.
The first highlight for me was a long version of “Little Village” with Van playing guitar and sax and several consecutive solos of the band members. “Early In The Morning” was an atmospheric blues with a frenzied keyboard solo – breathtaking.
“Real Real Gone” led into a few sequences of the old Sam Cooke song “You Send Me” ending with the original tune again.
Of course, I was aware of the 90 minutes total time for us and that there would be two “standard” encores: “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” – nothing else. What I did not know before was the dizzy tempo of the show giving the enthusiastic audience almost no time to even applaud. I was tempted to shout “Give me a break” just to once breathe deeply between two songs and to digest the latest one. No chance, on and on it went in high speed.
Van seemed to have a cold. From time to time he turned his back to the audience and blew his nose. His voice, however, apparently had not suffered from that, it was extremely powerful and variable with lots of vocal tricks making the enraptured listeners smile. There were surprisingly many young people in the crowd – that’s good, I think.
It was a marvelous night for a moondance and darkness had set in just in time when the suitable song had its appearance. A very lovely star spangled sky was projected onto the black stage background. “Moondance” this time was an unusual version which I did not recognize from start although having heard so many versions before. Van playing sax and piano and the excellent background singers doing a beautiful solo. Nice show.
“Precious Time” was a joyful, subdued swinging country version this time with Van smiling (!) to the band when singing “queen for a day” instead of “king for a day” throughout the song. An insider joke ??
“Saint James Infirmary” is not one of my favourite songs with its sombre lyrics and too much horn noise. But I must admit this was a sublime performance with Van himself blowing the sax and a piercing trumpet solo – just flawless.
The next two songs were the surprise of the evening for me. At least I was not aware Van would perform those ones live these days. The first one was “Star Of The County Down”, in original played with The Chieftains on “Irish Heartbeat”. In absence of the Irish instruments this time with sax and trumpet instead and still sounding very Irish and beautiful …
Now “Wild Night” from “Tupelo Honey”, supported by a furious light show. I would have assumed this hot song could be sung by a young Van only, as done 36 years ago. But even now with a 61 years old Van it was just great thrilling noise and fun.
This brings us to the last “regular” songs of this night, the Sonny Boy Williamson song “Help Me”. Van seems to like this one in particular, being one his concert standards since 1973. “Bring me my nightshirt …” suggests the evening might be over soon.
And in fact: the standard encores “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” make everybody jump off their seats and sing while Van is stepping slowly off the stage, blowing his harp … It’s all over now …
Leaving the crowd “in wild wonder” - applauding, shouting, booing and whistling ear-deafening, in particular when realizing they won’t get any more – a great concert is over.
And me? Am I satisfied or did I even get healed? No doubt – it was a sublime performance of “the man” and his excellent band. And it was worth in any case the long trip from Hamburg to Freiburg just for these 90 minutes. Just one sad remark: Van did not play my favorite kind of songs, the ones where he sounds so desperate and passionate and building up an almost unbearable tension for the listener just by singing. Like “Ancient Highway” or “In The Garden” or “You Know What They Are Writing About”. Or the beautiful dreamy long songs like “Summertime In England”, “So Quiet In Here”.
You can’t have it all. And it was still a fantabulous night in Freiburg with Van.