Van's set -- after a short one by Shana and her band, Caledonia -- got off to a rough start during the opening and never really recovered. At the end of This Love of Mine, a horrible feedback from Van's mike took over. Van said something like, "I'm not too happy with that. You shouldn't be either." Various smaller problems seemed to crop up the rest of the evening, maybe because Van was hypersensitive and it made everyone else on the stand uneasy.
Van's singing voice seemed clear and strong, but he suppressed a cough several times and broke off his vocals early sometimes. He drank water during and between every song. He pretty much stayed in a pretty narrow vocal and dynamic range. There was no way, for instance, that he was going to attempt "Satchmo" during Bright Side of the Road, and the scat at the end of Precious Time was minimal.
Other little things didn't seem to go right. Sarah Jory's chair seemed to break in mid-tune and had to be replaced while she half-stood and played. The band didn't seem to be picking up on all of Van's cues either. One time he poined to John Allair to take a solo but John Platania started up instead. The group sound often didn't seem to quite gel and Van seemed a little frustrated with them at times. There was also more discussion between songs than usual. Of course, Van's normal pacing is probably a little TOO fast.
After one fan yelled something between songs, Van said "What?!" Then, "Who the fuck let you in?" That's a line that could either break the ice on a chilly concert or signal that it's going to be "Mr. Grumpy" all night long. It was grumpy night.
In any event, nothing remotely meditative tonight. He finished with both a perfunctory Brown Eyed Girl and a perfunctory Gloria (although the latter had the novelty of Shana returning to the stage to provide some vocals). He was thoroughly professional, though. 20 years ago, he might have left the stage in mid-song and never returned. Tonight, BEG and Gloria had the audience standing, howling (mildly) for more. I heard some people behind me, attending their first Van show, remark that it was all they expected and more. They went away happy.