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Star Tribune - Jon Bream
Rock's Irish bard played sax and sang a lot of favorites, but the concert fell short on the passion Van the Man fans remember from the day.
Five days before Christmas, the brilliant but mercurial Van Morrison could have shown up at sold-out Northrop Auditorium as either Santa Claus (he's got the requisite physique) or Scrooge (he's notoriously cold, cantankerous and curmudgeonly in concert).
Well, rock's most confounding performer confounded once again on Thursday. He wasn't Scrooge, like he was at Northrop in 2004, but Santa didn't really
put any big presents under the tree either. It was a night of stocking stuffers. In other words, the 95-minute performance was good but never great; it was crowd-pleasing but never transcendent in the way Van the Man is at his best.
Even though he said little, as usual, to the audience, Morrison, 62, seemed in good spirits. Taking the stage at 7:30 p.m. sharp, he came out
blowing his alto saxophone on "Domino," one of his signatures from the 1970s. When he sang, he sounded a bit stuffed up but there was still undeniable passion in his voice.
But with Morrison, you want fire in his belly, you want him to rock your gypsy soul, you want him to take you into the mystic. That's what Van the Man did back in the day. On Thursday, however, he mostly came across as a mellow lounge act, with one foot in jazz-blues and the other in country-soul.
Half of the songs came from albums recorded since 1999. But even oldies were recast to fit the lounge vibe. "Moondance" was sophisticatedly soulful
late-night jazz, and "Jackie Wilson Said" was perfunctory hep-cat swing.
The tune that perhaps best typified the night was the slow jam "In the Afternoon," which started as more sleepy than seductive (it's about daytime
loving) but Morrison woke up near the end, riffing sexily about rocking on a golden autumn day in a mystic church.
The Irish bard's 10-member band was consistently strong, following cues from the bandleader, either with a nod, a pointed finger or a verbal shout.
Things felt alluring, organic and spontaneous, and all the instrumentalists (save for trumpeter backup singer Crawford Bell) got solo opportunities, with standout turns taken by guitarist John Platania,
fiddler mandolinist Tony Fitzgibbon and organist John Allair, who danced delightedly on his stool.
Morrison himself played more saxophone than usual, showing expansive expressiveness. But the 4,600 fans wanted to hear the expressiveness in his
voice. To be sure, there was a bit of a Dylan-like growl, an emphatic R&B shout and some fine riffing at the end of songs, including one about "Paul
McCartney singing money can't buy you love." But the Rock Hall of Famer never reached those fantabulous heights in which he got lost in his
song with his impassioned, involving and invigorating voice.
Well, Santa doesn't always deliver all the things on your wish list.
Pioneer Press - Rob Hubbard
Once, a Van Morrison concert was a rare event in these parts. But the veteran of four decades of musical and spiritual wandering has become a fairly frequent visitor in recent years. Does that mean that tickets to his shows aren't as valued as they once were? Well, Thursday night's concert at
Minneapolis' Northrop Auditorium argues otherwise. Despite tickets ranging from $86 to an eye-popping $211, there were still 4,574 eager buyers filling the hall.
What the enthusiastic crowd received for its investment was a frontman in fine voice and a well-rehearsed band that could nevertheless change gears at the bidding of the boss. Morrison seems to be having more fun playing his music than he has in some time, but Thursday's concert was merely a
pleasant performance that could have been considerably more exciting.
If you go to a concert wanting to hear the artist's songs performed as you remember them from the original album, then Van's not your man. He and his
current 10-piece band changed up the styles on almost every song on the call-it-as-he-goes set list, fashioning hybrids of multiple genres, sometimes a few within the same song.
When Morrison emerged with an alto sax in hand, it may have hinted that he would lend the show the kind of big-band flavor he favored a few years ago.
But strains of fiddle, dobro and pedal steel made this swing more of the Texas variety pioneered by Bob Wills. Roots reggae morphed into sunny CW on
"Bright Side of the Road." "Jackie Wilson Said" became a breezy blues shuffle. "Stop Drinking" was boogie-woogie Bakersfield country.
The challenge of these changeups seemed to keep everyone on stage engaged, as did arrangements that allowed each member of the band to shine on solos.
Standouts among them were organist John Allair, stylistically flexible fiddler Tony Fitzgibbon, and pedal steel and dobro diva Sarah Jory.
Clad in a gray suit and fedora, Morrison seemed at his most comfortable when assuming the persona of an old-fashioned bluesman on "Too Many Myths" and "Help Me." His growling voice was admirably expressive all evening, especially when he used extended quiet jams at the end of "In the
Afternoon" and "I'm Not Feeling It Anymore" to improvise lyrics, tossing in snatches of songs from throughout his expansive canon.
But Morrison and company still only played for a little over 90 minutes, doubtless leaving some wondering if the exorbitant outlay was money well spent.

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