Wednesday 25th March 2015
Royal Albert Hall, London
One can never be sure quite what to expect from a Van Morrison performance. Will it be the Blues Van? The Celtic soul Van? The mystic Van? More crucially, will it be the committed Van - or, as has often been the case in recent years - the perfunctory one? Or just plain old grumpy Van !! One thing that can usually be safely predicted is a self-absorption, a reluctance to acknowledge the audience on any level as befits a performer who in one of his most recent songs expressed the sentiment that "Sartre said hell was other people/I believe that most of them are". For this concert, there are two additional elements that might inform the tone of the show. First, this is part of this year’s run of Teenage Cancer Trust shows; a cause that obliges the artist to ensure they’re at their best. Secondly, this show convenient falls close to the release date of his new and 35th(!!) album, 'Duets: Reworking The Catalogue,' and there is in all likelihood an imperative to support that
As it transpires, all these things become to some degree relevant. Critically, we get an avuncular Morrison. He is hardly an unstoppable raconteur – he says very little, in fact – but his demeanour suggests he is at the very least enjoying himself. Sauntering on stage a few minutes after his band have started playing the light, jazzy grooves of 'Celtic Swing', he joins in with an expansive saxophone solo. His five piece backing band are dressed soberly in blacks and greys; Morrison himself wears a black suit, hat and sunglasses. I’m reminded to some extent of Dylan’s current touring band: another group of well-drilled musicians who are sensitive and discretely responsive to both the material and the demands of a notoriously capricious frontman. Under Morrison’s current musical director Paul Moran, they hold the line admirably. Admittedly, it’s not that difficult in the early part of the show. No sooner have the band warmed up, than Morrison introduces his new album to the audience and brings on the first of tonight’s duet partners, Clare Teal, for 'Carrying A Torch' and 'The Way Young Lovers Do'. The vibes are a little Pizza Express Jazz Club; fortunately, Morrison moves on to a persuasive version of 'Baby Please Don’t Go' before he is joined by Teenage Cancer Trust founder Roger Daltrey for 'Talk Is Cheap', which never quite lifts off. Perhaps they’re under-rehearsed, but instead of the fiery R&B thrill they’re presumably aiming for, the song feels sluggish where it should swing. It should be noted that Morrison still seemed to be both warming up his vocal chords and lubricating them continuously with copious amounts of water swigged from a pint glass.
Personally, I find this section of the show a little dull and my attention starts to wander. As he brings out fellow crooner PJ Proby for three songs, including one of Proby’s own and a cover of Sam Cooke’s 'Bring It On Home To Me', it begins to feel suspiciously like two old mates having a laugh. Morrison dwells too long here and what could passably be considered a generous act of sharing the stage with a favourite contemporary begins to feel like an indulgence. Things pick up, though, when Georgie Fame sits in for a handful of songs. This seems to change the shape of the music; the songs become looser, jazzier, fuller. The night’s brief collaboration with Fame culminates in a warm, gently swaying version of 'Centrepiece', which seems to segue into Dylan’s 'Corrina Corrina', lubricated by Morrison’s extraordinary baritone and Fame’s evocative Hammond playing. Fame is followed by Mick Hucknall, who gives a pleasingly restrained and sympathetic reading of 'Streets Of Arklow'.
By this point, I am finding it increasingly hard to guess where Morrison is going with his set. Is this a promo job for the Duets album, an opportunity to dust down some old R&B and soul covers or a leisurely trip through his capacious back catalogue? Or is it all three? And if so, is the balance of material right? But then he pulls out a final clutch of songs that showcase not only his most famous work but also mark a foray into the wild beauty of those Celtic landscapes. 'Moondance' appears as its lightest and most delicate, lifted by some nimble sax work from Morrison. 'Magic Time' continues to illustrate Morrison at his freewheeling best before we get a galloping 'Brown Eyed Girl'. For a finale, he plays magical, meandering versions of 'Into The Mystic” and “In The Garden', rich in wonderment, that transport and elevate.
Overall, I would describe this performance as workmanlike with plenty of really good music and Van in fine voice. It was however devoid of those really special moments that make the hair's stand up on the back of your neck where Van totally immerses himself in the moment and there was no interaction between Van and the audience or indeed his band which didn't help the overall atmosphere which was fairly reserved, even by Royal Albert Hall standards...First time i have sat in a box by the way.. Very nice...
Higher Than The World
Carrying a Torch w/Clare Teal
Young Lovers Do w/Clare Teal
Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/Don't Start Crying Now w/Roger Daltrey
Talk is Cheap w/Roger Daltrey
Whatever Happened to PJ Proby w/PJ Proby
Bring It On Home To Me w/PJ Proby
On With The Show w/Georgie Fame
Symphony Sid w/Georgie Fame
Centerpiece w/Georgie Fame
Days Like This
Streets of Arklow w/Mick Hucknall
Brown Eyed Girl
Into the Mystic
In The Garden
Wrinkly The Silver