Boston Globe - Geoff Edgers
You can depend on Van Morrison. He shows up exactly when your ticket says he will, and there's no need to worry about keeping the baby sitter late. Morrison punches through his 90-minute set as if he has a train to catch. Made famous for his mystical musical journeys, in concert he tends to, as the title of his upcoming record is named, "Keep It Simple." He cares certainly, gripping the microphone and belting out his white-man soul with conviction. But he's become more about consistency than conducting a spiritual self-exam onstage. At 62, hidden by his trademark fedora and sunglasses, Morrison embraces midtempo blues and jazzy shuffles. He's far more Mose Allison than "Into the Mystic."
The fans don't seem to mind. Like Dylan diehards, they accept and embrace their hero's path. Morrison doesn't chat between songs and he doesn't take requests. Even if you're paying several hundred dollars to see him, he's not about to play most of his best known records. Friday night, at the Citi Wang Theatre, Morrison's set included more than half of the adult-oriented R & B on "Keep It Simple," a mediocre album that won't be out for two weeks.
Should we praise such fan loyalty? Should Morrison be lauded for refusing to rest on his catalog? That depends. Fact is, the singer's best moments during Friday night's concert came during the less familiar. "Behind the Ritual" is a mantra of a song that happens to be the best recording on his upcoming album. It built slowly and steadily until his 11-person band hit a groove, and Morrison, inspired into a series of scats, slowly marched off the stage. Morrison's cover of "Stop Drinking" was made gritty by the band's dueling guitarists. Older nuggets such as "Vanlose Stairway" and "Magic Time" were strong as well, and Morrison seemed to dig into his newer, midtempo songs, giving "School of Hard Knocks" and "Soul" tougher readings than on the record.
But he sleep-sang through "Bright Side of the Road" and turned "Moondance," easily the best known song of the set, into a loungey band jam. The hard breaks on record were turned softer than baked brie. Morrison didn't bother singing the second verse, letting his band members take a vocal turn.
That would have been easier to take if Morrison showed he couldn't hit the high notes. But he can. This was a choice, as were the sometimes cheesy arrangements that held back his band, which periodically showed it could pull off country, jazz, and even something approximating garage rock on a few encore verses of "Gloria."
Listening to Morrison sing, watching the smiles as they spread throughout the house, you almost felt guilty to be secretly wishing the singer would put down his sax, grip that microphone, and trot out "Brown Eyed Girl."
Boston Herald - Jed Gottlieb
At 62, Van Morrison is more than Van the Man. He’s Van the Old Man.
Sometime in the mid ’70s, Morrison struck out from youthful rock ’n’ roll toward adult jazz, blues, r & b and mellow, mystic Caledonia soul. Last night’s packed Citi Wang Theater gig reconfirmed that he’s happy with his course.
Never one for music industry conventions, Morrison spent most of the night playing songs from his yet-to-be-released album, “Keep It Simple.” Sure, it was two weeks before the album is set to hit stores. But nobody cared.
Morrison ran through more than half a dozen new tunes, including “Lover Come Back,” “School of Hard Knocks,” “How Can a Poor Boy” and the too-true “Don’t Go to Nightclubs Anymore.” Mostly they settled into the simmering super club jazz and long-form r & b jams his audience now has come to associate with Morrison.
With Van’s band, it’s the performances, not the songs that matter. The 12-piece volleyed around a tremendous set of licks.
While everyone, including maestro Morrison himself on vocals, sax, harmonica and ukulele, was top notch, steel guitarist Sarah Jory stood out. On Morrison’s big, brassy warhorse “Moondance,” she slid into a succulent solo that turned the old melody inside out.
For a show this good and this adult, it’s a shame Morrison stayed locked in his typically aloof stage presence. OK, so he’s an icon, artist and perfectionist. But, for tickets that ran from $50 to $300, a smile or a “thank you, thank you very much” or some acknowledgement that yourg fans came to see you would be nice.
But that’s Van. If fans are committed enough to come to show after show knowing they’re not going to hear any of his classic tunes other than “Moondance” and few bars of “Gloria,” they’re committed to enduring his dour disposition.
Morrison did almost perk up on the night’s one near-transcendent performance, “Behind the Ritual.” A new song with a very old soul, this long, slow-burning Celtic funk hymn recalled some of Morrison’s best -“Listen to the Lion,” “Saint Dominic’s Preview” and even “Cyprus Avenue.” At 62, when you can still pull out near miracles at the end of the show, your fans are bound to stick with you. Even if it costs them an occasional average tune and $300.