Reno Gazette-Journal - Peggy Santoro
Van Morrison returned to the Grand Sierra (formerly Hilton) Theater for the third time since 2000, and not much has changed about him since that post-Millennial performance. He's still a sullen performer who spends most of the show out of the spotlight, letting his band do the heavy lifting.
He may have even been wearing the same boxy gray suit.
Morrison addressed the audience exactly twice, once to reply "Oh, oh?" to a man who yelled "I love you, Van" and once to say "Thank you" to a round of applause. That was it. He wandered off stage twice during the 98-minute show. He'd sing a bit then sit behind the keyboardist as most of his superb 10-piece band took a solo turn, working hard to put some showmanship into the show.
It was classic Van behavior, and if you expected that going in, you probably weren't disappointed. Morrison was in full voice, scatting and growling, working his brassy vocal instrument like the saxophone he added to the ensemble.
If, however, you thought that for $99 to $250 a seat you were in for more, well, it was a pretty disappointing evening.
The common complaint about Morrison live held here: He barely dipped into his catalog of old favorites, instead pulling heavily from the past three or four albums. Since his three most recent releases are a couple of best of's and a collection of songs from movie soundtracks, he has no compunction about making money off his golden oldies. But he tends to be stingy with them in concert.
He gave up a bit of "Tupelo Honey," and "Moondance" got the biggest response from the audience, naturally, but the band and backup singers performed about 85 percent of it, sans Van. None of the songs reached that transcendent state that Morrison can achieve when the mood hits. At his Reno show in 1998, he did a version of "Send in the Clowns" that to this day sends prickles up my arms just thinking about. There were no prickles on Friday.
And speaking of stingy, those expensive floor seats were lashed together with not an inch of personal space on either side. It was like flying center-seat coach to Albuquerque. I spent the show pressed thigh-to-shoulder with a stranger on one side. That my husband was pressedagainst my other side didn't make it any less uncomfortable or distracting. (Note to Grand Sierra Resort: Baby Boomer audiences take up more space.) There was no drink service on the floor, that I could see, and not enough aisles built into the arrangement to let people step out without climbing over dozens of others in the row. It made me as cranky as a certain Irish singer-songwriter. Those in the "cheap" seat banquettes got a better deal.
At Morrison's show seven years ago in that same room, I sat front-row center at a roomy table, so close I could rest my elbows on the stage. The ticket was $65. For his upcoming shows in San Francisco and Texas, those seats are selling online for as much as $650. Are they going to get 10 times the show? I'd say no.
I'm still sorting out my thoughts on this show. There were some sublime moments and some truly plodding songs, too.
My thoughts about Reno. Van failed to keep mediocrity at bay.