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2008-08-16last public update: Friday, 24-Mar-2017 20:12:33 CET
Playing to a picnicking crowd in Hampstead's stately surrounds, Van Morrison could be expected to go on autopilot.
Yet the clipped funky intro sounded by long-time guitar accomplice John Platania on the opener Domino suggested something more exciting in store.
The volume was often too low for tender intimacies to take hold and badly organised seating caused bizarre showdowns between members of the crowd and security staff but on stage The Man - with dark glasses, pork pie hat and VM logo strategically placed on the mike stand like a prizefighter's belt buckle - was clearly working hard to refresh seldom-heard parts of his illustrious canon.
After a superlative St Dominic's Preview, rearranged to highlight the 10-piece band's keening violin and mandolin, Morrison strapped on a ukulele.
"Time for some of George Formby's greatest hits," he waggishly announced. Wigan's finest remained untroubled, although latest album title track Keep It Simple was ample compensation.
The big pay off came with Ballerina and The Way Young Lovers Do, 40-years-young treats from his classic debut solo album Astral Weeks.
At 61, Morrison has inevitably lost the high register range of yesteryear but his artistry is consummate enough for that not to matter.
Largely brass-free, the band repeatedly treated old warhorses to deft rearrangements. Platania was let off the leash for a thunderous Wavelength and, as night descended, the post-coital moonlight drive on In The Afternoon recalled another, long-departed Morrison - Jim.
By the time a claw hammer banjo-driven Bright Side Of The Road arrived, audience members swarmed into a fenced off enclosure and the police judiciously stepped aside.
The "sha la la las" on Brown Eyed Girl led to a careering and emphatic Gloria - a predictable yet pleasurepacked climax.
Simple, but superb.
Opening up with Domino followed by Tupelo Honey > Why Must I Always Explain is well solid – good start – uplifting songs.
I always am thrilled to hear St Dominic's Preview and I disgraced myself by giving a hoarse yell at ‘it’s a long way to Belfast’ – you can take the boy outta Belfast, but you can’t take Belfast outta the boy. A few changes to the words here and there in the best Van tradition.
The three Keep It Simple songs (I am getting warmer over these songs now) are followed by the highlight of the night , an extended Ballerina (has Van been inspired by the Duke Special & The Inishowen Gospel Choir version sung to celebrate Astral Weeks’s 40th? JA had a wonderful solo. Van quips something like ‘Liven it up’ and we are treated to the second song of the night off Astral Weeks, the seldom sung The Way Young Lovers Do. A welcome treat.
Comfortably Numb fits Van like a bespoke suit – it brings irony and a subtlety to the show and evokes a memory of ‘I’m tired Joey Boy’ for me on this occasion.
In the Afternoon is given the workshop treatment and lifts a few lines from other songs (which I didn’t write down – sorry!) with band solos, then Moondance where the girls Katie & Vanessa strut their stuff – more of that please – easy on the eye as well as ear.
Sara Jory picks it up with the clappy stuff – what a thrill, enthusiasm all oozing out of her - on Bright Side, followed by Behind the Ritual & When The Healing Has Begun for the Van purists; how good are those songs together! The band is enjoying all that extra space they have and sending out a good vibe .
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