Philadelphia Inquirer -Dan DeLuca
A Satisfying Van Morrison at The Tower
"It's all one song!" Neil Young once famously said in response to a heckler who accused him of making music that all sounded alike. The same could be said of the songs of Van Morrison, the legendary Irish singer with a reputation as an uneven live performer, who played the Tower Theater on Thursday in the first of three area shows that will conclude his current six date North American tour.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. For over 40 years, the 62-year-old Morrison, who plays the Tower again tonight and the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City on Saturday, has been blending American rhythm and blues, jazz and country into a Celtic soul stew that simmered satisfyingly for an hour and 40 minutes in Upper Darby on Thursday.
Wearing a buttoned-up suit jacket and a fedora that looked as if it had been pounded down with a mallet, Morrison came on stage blowing a harmonica on "Wild Night" at 7:36. (That was just six minutes after the show's scheduled start time. Stragglers, consider yourselves warned.) He commenced to lead the nine person ensemble he never introduced by name - it included singers Katie Kissoon and Vanessa Haynes, steel guitarist Sarah Jory and keyboard-trumpet player Paul Moran - into an efficient and proficient no-nonsense evening that featured a smattering of hits and a few left-field surprises.
The biggest instance of the latter was "Comfortably Numb," Morrison's version of the Pink Floyd song with turned up in The Departed and The Sopranos, and which was rendered in stately fashion with Morrison trading off vocals with Kissoon. Equally warmly received by a house packed mostly with Morrison's chronological contemporaries were "Tupelo Honey," and "Gloria," whose raucous spelling lesson brought the crowd to its feet for a thumping, if somewhat hurried, encore. (No luck on "Moondance," or "Domino," but there's always tonight, and tomorrow.)
Morrison enunciated poorly and emoted soulfully, played guitar and tooted on a saxophone. He shouted out the names of heroes such as Muddy Waters and Big Joe Turner as if they were holy men, and evoked 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud in asking his muse for inspiration in a spirited, brassy "Tore Down A La Rimbaud."
During "Ancient Highway," part of a medley that also included "In the Afternoon" and "Raincheck," he muttered something about a store on the side of the road "that sells garden gnomes." Other than that, and stopping to ask if anyone had heard his classic 1968 album Astral Weeks before a stirring "Madame George," he kept his inscrutable thoughts to himself and the music moving forward.
"Well it's out on the highway, and on with the show - Always telling people things they're too lazy to know," he sang grumpily early on, in "Why Must I Always Explain?" Morrison can often make it seem as if performing is a chore, a necessary evil to be endured to reach the sanctified place where blues and R & B and jazz and gospel and country come together, and words get in the way on the road to pure expression. At the Tower, he found that place, stayed a while, and then was gone.