“Isn’t that the fella that sings ‘Brown Eyed Girl’?” was the usual reaction I would receive when talking to some of my generational compatriots. Well, they were partly right…but I think Van Morrison goes a heckuvalot deeper than just that. He is a living legend whose tours are few and far between! He certainly ain’t no one-hit wonder!
The concert began with the seven-piece band laying down the foundation for what was to become a wonderful night for a Moondance. From the bottom end of the percussion and bass to the melodies and jazz of the trumpet, guitar, and organ, these guys were the cream of the accompaniment crop. They really blew me away. They were tight, anchored, but still had a hand on the funk. Especially the horn player, Mr. Pee Wee Ellis, who has worked with the Godfather himself, James Brown.
When Van Morrison walked out, he gave Johnny Cash a run for his money. Black shades, black hat, black suit, and black shoes made certain that he was the coolest cat in all the Metro Centre…and this was before he opened his mouth. Personally, I really was not sure what to expect. I had heard tall tales of Van playing with his back to the audience or cases of premature evacuation, but on this night he played for over an hour and a half and went several fathoms of emotion deep. Seeing him live in action was a quality memory that should last well beyond what my MuchMusic attention span usually handles.
I knew approximately half of the material, since I have been spinning both of his hit collections regularly. My first intense listen to his music was via the Irish Heartbeat album he did with the Chieftains in 1988. It was there I could familiarize myself with his idiosyncratic vocal ramblings and mumblings that make every song and every performance a unique and enjoyable experience.
As they ended with “Send in the Clowns” I realized that what I witnessed was pure honey… tupelo honey. He had brought to life the jovial “Bright Side of the Road”, echoed the sing-a-long “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” in many ears, pushed the swing of “Real Real Gone”, and ignited the passion of “Crazy Love” with almost no noticeable effort or strain. When he inquired about requests, he came up aces with the Them gem “Here Comes the Night”. But alas, no “Brown Eyed Girl” for the kids. There’s no question that you’re the man, when you don’t have to sing that one…and still deliver the goods.