Van Morrison: Live Last Night

van morrison

Live Last Night

By Dave McKenna

The Van Morrison who showed up at Constitution Hall on Thursday clearly views himself as an artist, not an entertainer. So anybody wanting to hear Van Morrison smash hits would have had more success finding a good jukebox or hitting an open mike night at the local coffeehouse.

But for folks who looked forward to spending the evening with a distaff diva, Van the Man delivered.

Quibblers could harp about Morrison staying away from familiar material as if it'd give him swine flu. And that he modulated his voice less than Willie Nelson and mumbled enough to owe Bob Dylan royalties. His people skills were invisible -- not so much as a hello or thanks to fans who'd paid up to $350 face value to share the room with him, and he yelled at bandmates and stagehands like Buddy Rich on a tour bus.

But, oh, what a supply of attitude and talent! An artist's supply, even.

Morrison's current tour showcases material from "Astral Weeks," a 1968 record that got him his greatest reviews, though it wasn't a big seller and had no radio hits. It's the kind of record best listened to alone in a dark room with a mildly mind-altering substance, and clearly comes from an age long before iTunes and singles downloads. In other words, "Astral" is not an obvious choice for the sort of album-centric tours that so many vintage artists are giving these days. But that's Van being Van. Backed by a large band with strings and horns, he reprised tunes such as "The Way Young Lovers Do" and "Slim Slow Slider" while being at once intense and mellow, hushed and swinging. "Sweet Thing" flaunted the Belfast-born Morrison's special brand of Celtic rhythm and blues.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Morrison, 63, has never been a poster boy for good living. Thursday night he looked like a bloated pallbearer in his dark suit, dark sunglasses and a black hat. But his voice was incredibly strong and clear whenever he wanted it to be. He didn't want it to be that often: For "Cyprus Avenue," he used his lyrics, scat-like, to send a rhythmic rather than verbal message.

Morrison treated his band and crew horribly. In the midst of "Fair Play," one of a handful of non-"Astral" tunes in the set, he decided he didn't like the tempo and screamed at his drummer to switch from brushes to sticks. Morrison was close enough to the microphone that the crowd couldn't avoid taking in the humiliation. He later summoned a roadie to the center of the stage to move microphone and music stands a few feet away from him, then screamed an obscenity at him while telling him to leave the stage. Then Morrison launched into "In the Garden," a 1986 spiritual glorious enough to get him right with god, flaws and all.

The clearest show of respect for the performer and the performance: There was no talking in the nearly full house as the band played, and, despite all the deep cuts, no shouted requests between songs for his hits. At night's end, Morrison touched on his singles file briefly, though it was so little and so late that it felt more like a taunt than a reward. He turned the band loose on "Gloria," a three-chord garage rocker that he wrote as a teenager and was later covered reverently by, among others, Patti Smith, Jimi Hendrix and another iconic Morrison, Jim of the Doors.

But the biggest surprise came with the opening notes of "Brown Eyed Girl." Given all that came earlier, Morrison couldn't have shocked the crowd more if he'd Tasered everybody. But, consistent to the end, Morrison performed his gem with apparent disdain. He sang the opening of the chorus - "Do you remember when we used to sing" - but turned his back to the seats to let the crowd take the "Sha la la la la la la la la la la ti da." He knew everybody would remember.

Morrison performs at Constitution Hall again on Friday night.

By David Malitz |  August 7, 2009; 12:53 PM ET Legends , Live Last Night
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Nice review -- the taser line is great. Morrison is one of my all-time favorites, but there's no denying that he is a complete and total prick. Makes it hard to want to shell out "classic rock dinosaur" money to go see him when the results are so inconsistent. (Not that I particularly mind the deep cuts approach in and of itself -- I don't ever really need to hear Brown-Eyed Girl again ever in my life, so I kind of sympathize with Van on that one.)

Posted by: dockboggs | August 7, 2009 2:02 PM

I didn't know Jake and Elwood had a brother.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | August 7, 2009 2:11 PM

I was in Section T, directly to the left of the stage and pretty high up. As expected, the sound was horrible. The high-hat was bouncing off the back wall and the vocals ( probably not DAR's fault) were unintelligible. What bothered me the most was Van berating his "gofer" during every song. People facing the stage might not have noticed, but mid-song ( still playing) Van had his roadies move the risers for the drums and strings up a few inches forward. The other percusionist covered for the drummer as he got up for the roadies to move the riser. lol . Also maybe a "hello dc" wouldn't have killed him.

Posted by: Snapper24 | August 7, 2009 2:51 PM

350 bucks for this fat washed up egomaniac?

I'd rather buy a big bag of crack.

Posted by: spdawson1 | August 7, 2009 3:07 PM

Sounds like a man with a terminal case of arrogance - the musical equivalent of some USA sports stars today. Must be something in the water.

He was good, back in the day, and probably still is - but he owes a huge debt of gratitude to the people whose purchases financed and still finance his lifestyle.

I doubt that that thought ever crosses his mind. All that good stuff he enjoys he's earned the hard way by being a genius.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | August 7, 2009 6:09 PM

It's unfortunate that such a talent such as Van Morrison feels the need to act like such an a**hole during his own concert.

Posted by: rayd11 | August 7, 2009 7:39 PM

Sounds very similar to a concert I saw of his in his hometown of Belfast (although thankfully the price was much less). Few well known songs, ornery, and no acknowledgment of the crowd - even in his hometown! Love the music, can't stand the man.

Posted by: bsengel1 | August 7, 2009 8:26 PM

I've seen Van the Man four times. Never again. Each show was a horror show. Zero charisma, 100% arrogance. At the third show, I'd estimate that 40% of the audience walked out. Not content to abuse only his band, he shouted epithets at the audience.

I wouldn't pay 50¢ to see the bum. Love the music, despise the "artist."

Posted by: BwanaDik | August 7, 2009 9:04 PM

Just returned from the Friday show, and we didn't have the benefit of Gloria or Brown-Eyed Girl. Just a whole lot of arrogance and attitude. Next time, I'll hit my collection of CDs and take a pass on the Man.

Posted by: margaretbarton1 | August 7, 2009 10:58 PM

Friday night concert was a major disappointment. So many great songs and he never played one. At the end he walked off the stage with no encore or a hint of the Van Morrison music we love. During the show he never said a word to the audience, but I suspect he knew we were in the room. I think we were punished for some calls from the audience for favorites. I'm done with Van Morrison. What a disappointment.

Posted by: lstengle | August 7, 2009 11:17 PM

Friday night was the most idssapointing concert I have been to in my life. I sat in my seat for 10 full minutesafter the show ended astonished. He rambled through Astral weeks and not a single other song. In London in April he had a full hour of favorites. At the end it seemed that even the abnd was shocked that he had finished. They seemed to almost apologize on stage.

Posted by: Hannah3 | August 7, 2009 11:40 PM

Saw the Friday concert, first-time Van Morrison show for me. What a thorough disappointment. My wife and I used to listen to "Back on Top" when we first started dating, and were looking forward to a fun evening. Everything said before about his performance is true--not a word to the crowd, no sense of enjoying his own performance, nothing. Complete bummer.

Posted by: DaveinVA | August 8, 2009 9:48 AM

Was at the Friday night show.

First the good points. Love the music. Astral Weeks is just simply a fantastic album and Van still has great pipes and can produce high quality sound. Constitution Hall, from a viewing stand point is a fantastic place to see this type of show - especially if you have Orchestra level seats at about row T which I did.

Now the bad. Let’s put aside, for the moment, that Van is a complete non-stage presence. The important thing is the music, right? This music needs to be heard in all its nuance. There is a lot going on in the background instrumentals which really does provide a rich mesh for what’s happening with Van’s voice. It deserves to be heard. Although I’m sure the hall has something to do with it, the mix was simply terrible. All was a muddy mess with no definition to allow the counter points to be heard. Most of the solos for the flute and strings were simply lost which was a pity. The guitarist was better but still never quite front and center when needed. In general, it just needed to be louder. Aside from the poor sound, the dynamics on stage were dull and often in the way of the music. It’s obvious that these guys don’t play together. What I saw and heard sounded like a fairly put together practice session but still not ready for prime time. It’s live music after all but for the money I paid I expect it to be put together and not as if they were still working out who was going to play what solo when. It didn’t help that there was obvious tension on stage and that his mike started having feedback for the last two songs.

To sum up the show, I think Van put’s it best. To quote from his web site which is currently promoting this tour: "The only thing I love is the music. The rest of it is pure sh!t." - Van Morrison, Village Voice.

Posted by: boobongbill | August 8, 2009 12:59 PM

I have waited over 25 years to see Van Morrison (kept just missing his shows!) and I was so excited about seeing him on Friday night. What a disappointment!! Not a "hello," "goodbye," or "thank you." I've always heard that he has no people skills, but come on! I can only hope that his forgetting the lyrics of a song and having to be helped off the stage by a band member (while a song was still be performed, no less) meant that he was ill. If he wasn't physically ill, I think he's spiritually ill, despite the fact that he wants us to believe, from his songs, that he is so very spiritual. If he was, he wouldn't treat his audience (or his band, etc.) the way he did! I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO A CONCERT THAT DIDN'T INCLUDE AT LEAST ONE ENCORE!!! I have a feeling that people calling out song titles ticked him off and he just threw a hissy fit at the end, and that's why we didn't get Glorida or Brown Eyed Girl!!

Posted by: massageorknot | August 8, 2009 12:59 PM

Now really kids. Calm down. It's Van Morrison. What did you expect in the way of audience interaction and glib conversation? Since November last year, everyone who reads or follows music knows that this tour was all about Astral Weeks--and nothing else. If you expected something else, it's your expectations that were wrong; not the show the artist gave you. I went to see Van Morrison perform Astral Weeks...and he did. And if you close your eyes, and only consider the music reaching your ears, it was very classy and very good. I have seen him a half-dozen times since the 70s; the guy hates to give concerts; he uncomfortable and self-conscious. That 'diva' stuff is a cover for his stage fright; he'd rather you think him a jerk than a coward. Anyway, whether you realize it or not, you were fortunate to see this great artist perform one of his masterworks. If you want to hear hits, go play your LPs or CDs. Thanks for coming to DC, Van. Please come again, and whatever YOU want to play, I'll be glad to listen to whatever you decide to share with me.

Posted by: saktor | August 10, 2009 1:02 PM

My two favorite lines in the review...."looked like a bloated pallbearer", and "sounded like Buddy Rich on a tour bus"!!!

Posted by: dolfina | August 13, 2009 6:35 PM

Ah, the ol' "he didn't even say thank you or acknowledge the audience." I saw the price of tickets and declined to go to the shows. Howvever, that saying thank you or how ya doin DC is how concerts are judged is simply ludicrous. If you're that needy, buy a dog. I saw Morrison twice in 98, he wasn't even playing an entire album live, failed to play "the hits", and I don't recall a word being said. Does It's Too Late to Stop Now contain any how ya doin LA's. The word has been out on Morrison's stage demeanor for over a decade. If you're going to spend outlandish sums to go to a show -do the research and don't be mad if it fails to live up to your expectation. If you want thank yous and how ya doin's go to Outback or Applebys

Posted by: johburke | August 14, 2009 10:05 AM

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