Illinois Entertainer – Andy Argyrakis
Anyone who has seen Van Morrison knows there’s no telling what mood he’ll be in, what genre he’ll focus on, what hits he’ll sing (if any), or how long he’ll play. At 62, with 35 self-produced solo CDs under his belt, Morrison is certainly entitled to do whatever he pleases, though in recent years, has grown increasingly quirky and sometimes downright cranky. Signs greeted concertgoers that no alcohol would be served this particular evening and that anyone who took a picture or used a cell phone would be immediately ejected. While the rules appeared stiff, they weren’t uncalled for considering top-tier tickets were priced at an outrageous $300 — certainly enough to guarantee no distractions.
The question of Morrison giving attendees their money’s worth is certainly debatable. He played 90 minutes on the dot, had nine impressive backers, and was very efficient (though not overly proficient) at everything from guitar to harmonica to saxophone. Banter between songs was kept to a bare minimum and, at times, the vocals were so garbled they made Bob Dylan sound crystal clear, but even so, Morrison was equally intriguing as a cult-like character and intricate genre jumper.
Though it appeared the concert would take cues from 2007’s career-spanning hits collection, Still On Top (Polydor), thanks to the lively opener “Wild Night,” it was one of the very few immediately recognizable moments for the casual fan. Of course, many ticket holders were repeat customers, as evidenced by the howls that greeted tunes from 2008’s stripped down, narrative-based Keep It Simple (Lost Highway) and just about every other deep cut, cover, and random jam. As has become a tradition, the merger of R&B romancer “Tupelo Honey” and the similarly structured “Why Must I Always Explain?” earned feverish reception and both sounded superb, even if the headliner was subdued in movement.
He loosened up a bit for the fresh “That’s Entrainment,” perhaps due to its curious phrasing, spiraling acoustic core, and country-tipped sensibilities. The stylistic melting pot continued with a psychedelic rendering of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (during which Morrison traded verses with two enchanting background vocalists) to his own brew of Irish rock on the tried-and-true “Wavelength.” “Ballerina” was delicately plucked from 1968’s ground-breaking Astral Weeks, though the tender tune was overly indulgent in jazzy jamming, a grievance later corrected via a gospel-tinged treatment of “Burning Ground” and the Celtic-centered “And The Healing Has Begun.”
Although these overhauled selections provided the converted with a tasty trip through the vaults, they were likely to leave the radio-minded confused.
Despite purebred nostalgia never being his bag, at least one or two additional hits would’ve struck a better balance, with the omission of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” appearing especially arrogant. But as Morrison abruptly exited after a sole encore, soulfully scatting with his back to the crowd, he only increased the mystique that has steadily evolved across almost five decades, suggesting a mixture of commercial indifference and unwavering confidence account for his longevity.
Incredible show in Chicago, great band, excellent vocals, tremendous setlist. Only downside.. no John Allair. On Comfortably Numb Van explains it's not the kind of song he usually does, but it ended up in a movie and the Sopranos, so "we're going to do it". Katie Kissoon duets, singing the verses, while Van does the chorus. Ballerina had Van on acoustic, Paul on stand up bass, Sarah on acoustic. This ends with a longish jam, Van singing his guitar part as he plays it. I didn't' think this jam jelled particularly well, but keep reading for one that did. Burning Ground was sung with Katie Kissoon, in an arrangement I haven't heard before, driving beat and lots of percussion. And the Healing Has Begun had a great violin solo, and nice guitar solo from Van. Madame George - great vocal, singing all the verses, and ending with an ecstatic jam, highlighted by Van on acoustic and Tony Fitzgibbon on violin: "The love that loves to love the love that loves to love that loves... in the wind and the rain in the backstreet, way down home in the backstreet.."
Then van takes the wireless mike and starts a rhythmic, slow, elegant shuffle toward the wings as he scats the end of the song. The band finishes the song, the crowd goes wild.. Wow...
As two different people told me, if he does the same show tomorrow in Detroit, they'll be really happy. Me too.
The show ran about 100 minutes, and almost 30 was devoted to the Astral Weeks songs. This is a show people will be talking about for a long time..