NY Times - BEN RATLIFF
“Entrainment” is not an everyday word, but it’s a term used in various fields of science. It can describe the phenomenon of one organism rhythmically and internally adjusting itself to another. It’s when life-pulses coordinate.
Fireflies lighting up in synchronization has been described as entrainment. Jazz musicians locking in together is, in its way, entrainment. On Saturday at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, Van Morrison used the word about 20 times in a new song. The 11-piece band cycled through three chords, and he sang entirely about love, or entirely about music: hold the words up to the light, and they could go either way.
You when the sun goes down
You in the evening, in the morning when the sun comes round
You with your ballerina dance
Well you put me back in a trance
“That’s entrainment,” he sang in the chorus, six times in a row. Then:
You make me holler, make me holler when you come around
Oh want you to shake your money maker, want you to shake ’em on down
Shake your money maker, shake your money maker, shake ’em on down.
And again: “that’s entrainment, that’s entrainment, that’s entrainment, that’s entrainment, that’s entrainment, that’s entrainment.”
The song, “That’s Entrainment,” is on Mr. Morrison’s new album, “Keep It Simple” (Lost Highway), to be released April 1. Like a lot of the record — and a lot of Saturday’s 90-minute show, which centered heavily on new songs — it’s both nothing special and extraordinarily wise. It’s an album about calming down after a life of rigmarole. On Saturday Mr. Morrison played a ukulele with it, brushing out simple chords. It felt like an instant song, though one that had magically acquired a richly detailed, beautifully practiced accompaniment.
The feeling of the new songs was somewhere between Western swing and rhythm and blues. The band, a weird compound, included pedal-steel guitar, fiddle, trumpet, Hammond organ, piano, a British drummer (Neal Wilkinson) with a perfected Los Angeles studio-session slow groove, and backup vocalists with an archaic, Jordanaires style of ooh-wee-oohing. Mr. Morrison, oblique behind sunglasses and in a dark suit, saying nearly nothing, cued the band throughout. He tugged it and pushed it with abrupt, shooting-hand gestures, working it like a kite. They looked tense, and he looked imperious. It was consummate, exemplary bandleading.
He halted solos or ordered new ones, shut down songs before they outstayed their welcome, made downbeats stronger and quieted the band for little repetitive vocal solos. In his version of “St. James Infirmary” he sang long melismatic stretches on the word “James.” In “Behind the Ritual,” another new song, he sketched out a vision of youthful excess: “Boogie-woogie child in the alley > Drinking that wine, making time, talking out of my mind” — and then stilled the band to a whisper for one of his solos. He sang, “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah voo-a, voo-a, voo-a, voo-a.”
The moral of that song — the chant that ended up in your head — was up a level from the subject of wine and alleys: it is “behind the ritual > You find the spiritual.” Other new and recent songs dwelled directly on leaving old excesses behind — “don’t need juice to unwind,” “stop drinking that wine, sonny boy” — but they weren’t necessarily moral or health warnings. They suggested that drinking and staying out late was just more ritual, more stuff invented to obscure what matters in the end.
Yesterday evening, I headed up to the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights to see the Van Morrison concert.
I hadn't been to Washington Heights for awhile. It is still primarily a Latino neighborhood, but some other ethnic groups have filtered in over the years. Last night, there was an influx of white Baby Boomers and the next generation of Van fans like myself. The theater was spacious and ornate. My $90+ ticket was in the second to last row in the balcony. These concerts are not cheap!
I was sort of miffed at all the concert-goers who don't understand that Van always starts on time. There is a reason the ticket said "7:30pm SHARP!", but I guess some didn't take this seriously. He started at 7:40 and for the next half and hour, the punctual fans had to deal with the late fans coming in, trying to find their seats in the dark. It was quite disruptive and annoying!
Van played almost all new material and his voice sounded great and his 9 piece band was tight. I liked the new songs and will buy the new CD Keep It Simple when it comes out. He only played two older songs, one of which is somewhat obscure and possibly not recognizable to those fans who came to hear "the oldies". I have to admit I was hoping for a few more songs from the 1970s Van catalog, but I respect him for being progressive.
I think everyone was disappointed when he finished the show at the 88 minute mark. If he would have played just one more song, I think the fans would have been happier. As I overhead one fellow concert-goer say to his friend on the way out, "What do you expect? He is 62 years old and played a very strong concert. He's tired and wanted to call it a night." I have to agree that the 88 minutes of performance was solid and he performed with more gusto than I had seen in past concerts. He also played guitar, ukulele, saxophone and harmonica. He did some scat singing and some dancing and clapping--very unusual for the typically reserved Van.
Today, I went to the official website (see highlighted link above) and listened to an interview with him from the Today Programme. After hearing him speak, I respect his desire to be a "working musician" rather than a celebrity subjected to speculations (or as he says "propaganda") about his personality and private life. He also said that he didn't understand the music industry's obsession with the past when he wants to be creating and performing new songs, which is exactly what he did last night.
If you've gotten this far in my post and wonder why I love Van so much, I suggest you check out the CD Van Morrison at the Movies. It's a compilation of some of his better-known songs that have been featured in films that you have probably seen. Hopefully, you will experience the magic in the music that has turned me into a die-hard fan. I feel grateful that I had the good fortune to go see him last night. And to be reminded to "keep it simple"; these are words to live by...
Glide Magazine - Luke Sacks
No matter how much success a musician has found or how many sold out shows that person has played over the years, he or she should never forget what got them to the top of the mountain: the fans. The hard-working, 9 am – 5 pm fans who pay good money to attend shows, buy merchandise and, at least before the digital revolution, buy albums.
On Saturday night, my wife and I trekked up to the United Palace Theater in New York to see Van Morrison, an icon and legend in the music world. The man has put out enough albums to fill a CD rack and has played the best venues around the world for the last 30 years. He knows what he is and the fans know too. He’s a musical genius. A guy with a voice so smooth and silky, it can hypnotize you. He’s funky and jazzy and has one of the most distinct voices in all of music. He is almost mystical. But he’s also clueless.
Fans, including my wife and I, shelled out anywhere from $80 to $350 for tickets and fees to see Morrison perform for a mere 92 minutes on Saturday night. The set was mind-blowing. A fusion of jazz, funk and rock with just enough lullaby to melt you into your seat, Morrison crafted a setlist of mostly newer material and selections from his forth-coming album filled with life and eclectic punch. It was a wonderful set of music. But it wasn’t enough. With a ticket time of 7:30 SHARP (The word SHARP actually appeared on the ticket), Morrison was off the stage and probably on his way to a nice steak dinner before most New York concerts even get started. It was 9:02 pm and he was already giving a half-hearted bow to the crowd. Read on to find out why Luke thinks Van isn’t the Man…
Now granted, the formula of Set I > 30 minute break > Set II is probably more of a Jamband standard than something that should be considered usual procedure. Van Morrison isn’t going to come out and play a Phish-like marathon or wail into the wee hours like Umphrey’s McGee might. But he certainly could play over two hours the way Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder or the Police did on their tours last year. Phil Lesh is nearly four years older than Morrison and can play all night. So clearly, it’s not an age thing. It’s an attitude thing. And it seems to cause problems for Morrison away from the stage too.
Morrison, who was reportedly kicked out of an Austin, Texas hotel for a run-in with staff during his SXSW appearance last week, could have given his New York fans, who showed up on time and lined up in around the block on a cold winter’s night, a chance to enter and get seated before stepping on stage to start the show.
But he didn’t. He got up there when he felt like it and got off stage when he felt like it and paid no mind to the fans. He couldn’t even be bothered with an encore despite the fact that his next scheduled concert date is March 21. This wasn’t a guy giving his road crew a break with a 15-minute head start. This was a guy so impressed with his own accomplishments, he forget how he reached them in the first place. When the house lights came on and the stunned crowd began slipping on warm coats and heading out into the frigid night, a woman behind me said out loud to no one in particular, “No encore? Something must be wrong.” She hit the nail right on the head.
All About Jazz - Ralph A. Miriello
The air was cool and the streets were filled with middle-aged transplanted white folks from the suburbs, all making there way to the upper reaches of Manhattan island--175th Street and Broadway, to be precise--the area known as Morningside Heights. The occasion for this excursion was a much anticipated and somewhat rare performance by the iconoclastic singer songwriter Van Morrison at the magnificent United Palace theater.
The real story of this evening of entertainment was the venue itself, originally built in 1930 as one of three Loews Wonder Theaters designed specifically for vaudeville and theatrical acts. The AIA guide describes its design as “Cambodian Neo-Classical,” and New York Times writer David Dunlap calls it an “Oriental palace of Jewels.” This 3600-seat landmark edifice was the inspiration of famed theater architect Thomas Lamb, whose architectural credits include the original Madison Square Garden on 26th Street and Madison Avenue as well as the famous Ziegfeld theater on 54th and Sixth Avenue. The Palace, as it should be rightfully called, was restored to its original, magnificently excessive opulence in 1969 by the current owners--and what an eyeful to behold. The acoustics, moreover, were exceptionally good all the way to the balcony, where the ornamentation included everything from the Bodhisattva to Joan of Arc.
It was Van Morrison who seemed to come up short of expectations.
The seasoned crowd had come to honor and enjoy the veteran Irish crooner and partake in a little nostalgia but unfortunately were likely disappointed. Garbed in a gray double- breasted suit and with his now trademark fedora and dark glasses, the man they call Van was joined by a 12-piece orchestra that included a drummer, a percussionist, two guitarists, a violinist, an electric bassist, a Hammond organist, a keyboard player, and two back-up singers--one who doubled on trumpet and the other a pedal steel player tripling on dobro and guitar.
Throughout the evening Morrison sang and played saxophone, ukulele and some harmonica. His voice was in fine form and his backing musicians were all accomplished but never allowed to stray from the precise program. The leader's penchant for control was apparent in the relative absence of spontaneity from these capable but harnessed musicians. He never introduced any of them to the audience, plowing through one song after another in a way that left one feeling he had better things to do later on that evening. His apparent control problem manifested itself even in an unbending insistence on starting the show at the precisely appointed time of 7:30 pm. The near impossible task of all 3600 patrons finding parking spaces in this vehicle-unfriendly location and then making opening curtain meant that many in the audience were finding their way to their seats through much of the first half of the show, to the distraction of those of us who were already seated.
When all is said and done we came to hear the man sing and inspire us with jazz-influenced, soulful renderings of his memorable songs. The music he did play was apparently from his upcoming new release Keep it Simple and leaned heavily on traditions that spanned country, blues, Dixieland, rock and roll, gospel, Celtic and a touch of jazz.
Even though an artist is always changing and should not be expected to remain frozen in time rehashing old gems just for old times' sake, an audience deserves some acknowledgment from the artists they have loyally supported over the years. With musicians it usually comes in the form of playing some classics for those who have a special connection with the artist and a particular song. As a long-time fan with several albums I was unable to identify any of the music that he did perform with the exception of his finale, which included a quick-tempo version of his famous “Gloria.”
In speaking with some of the patrons afterwards, it became clear that I was not the only one unfamiliar with the music he played. In fact, most people I talked to found the performance less than thrilling if not a downright disappointment. This is not to say he didn't sing masterfully, which he did, but there was something severely lacking on this evening. In fact, the lack of spontaneity and disconnect with his fans bordered on indifference. It seemed that in an effort to “Keep it Simple” Morrison had gone to the extreme of keeping it uninspired. The crowd came to hear the man they had grown up with, and while they got a journeyman's performance, they ended up giving more than they got. With ticket prices going for double face value, the whole experience left a number of formerly supportive fans feeling totally taken.
Small wonder that the best part of the evening was the discovery of a hidden gem of a palace, the awesome United Palace. Undoubtedly, other performers will find this venue the perfect setting for making it a musical evening to remember. It just too bad Van Morrison wasn't one of them.