Providence Journal - Rick Massimo
Audience treated to eclectic, spiritual mix
The words “spiritual” and “mystical” get tossed around way too much in discussions of Van Morrison’s work, but there’s a generosity of spirit in his best stuff that you don’t get many other places, and last night at the Providence Performing Arts Center it was on full display.
Sure, he came out swinging with his 1970 hit “Domino,” and they probably wouldn’t have let him go home without “Moondance,” but in between Morrison covered the bases from various eras in his long career, and overall the mood was soothing. Only on the finale, the blues classic “Help Me,” did Morrison’s excellent 10-piece band kick up any real clangor, but that wasn’t the aim.
The band included trumpet, fiddle, steel guitar, electric guitar, electric and acoustic bass, drums and percussion, with Morrison taking turns on sax, keys, guitar and harmonica — enough variety to cover almost anything. And while the bodhran on stage never got used, and Celtic references were few, Morrison and band went through a trademark mix of soul, R&B and country that represented his best.
The lush soul-pop balladry of “Magic Time,” with the excellent Sara Jordan’s seemingly incongruous steel guitar like a sigh, set the tone early on — the usual musical categories don’t apply. Whether it was the soul-with-fiddle of “In the Afternoon,” the laid-back Stax of “Cleaning Windows” or the mix of country shuffle with elegant Hammond organ on “Bright Side of the Road,” it all ended up in the same place when Morrison was through with it.
It’s a fine line between hypnotizing and boring, and you wouldn’t have wanted the show to go on much longer than its hour and 45 minutes, but it was a show of warmth and coolness rather than high heat and icy cold, and with the help of the excellent, muted sound mix the emphasis was on the songs and the singer, who more than held his own with his distinctive blend of power, swoops up to and down from the melody, occasionally ridiculous scatting and more.
Morrison’s voice ranged from the hornlike blare on “Stranded” to the breathiness of “In the Afternoon” to the romance of “Meet Me in the Indian Summer,” from 2002’s Down the Road album, and just when you thought he maybe didn’t have the steam on the old fastball, he cut loose with serious power on his cover of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the song of course made famous by Ray Charles, also known for his ability to slip between genres and still sound like himself.
But the highlights were the simplest moments, such as the quiet, forlorn “In the Midnight,” from 1999’s Back on Top album, and the mantra-like “And the Healing Has Begun,” with its simple, ascending chord pattern, its lyrics about drinking wine in the alley and the mantra-like repetition of the title. Spiritual? Can’t think of a better word, actually.