I ventured back to Star Key Lake Bank whatever place a second week in a row. I knew this would be a different experience. I was nervous and excited. I was finally going to see my favorite voice ever Van Morrison. Oh yeah also Willie Nelson again, finally also get to see Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlile, Willie’s sons’ bands, and also get to see hometown heroes The Common Heart for their first (I’m sure of many) appearances on a big stage.
What I got was memorable, weird, amazing, compelling, disappointing, revelatory, and ultimately very satisfying.
Van and his nine piece band came out looking more like gangsters than outlaws. Dressed like jazz musicians from the 50’s they matched that with their playing. Van acted as if he were a member of the Count Basie Orchestra, not the lead singer with the most soul any man black or white ever had. The songs were all given hep cat interpretations – some unrecognizable from the studio recordings.
But man that voice. From the moment he hit that first note on The Way Young Lovers Do, I knew no singer I’d ever heard or ever would hear could top it. Sounding much the same as always no worse the wear from fifty plus years in the spotlight, he reached down, let loose and quickly grabbed the attention of 16,000 attendees.
Morrison showed none of his well publicized stage fright and mixed newer material with classics. The music was flawless, well played, and, uh, sterile. Morrison showed zero charisma and the band had the cohesion of strangers reading music (Morrison in fact did seem to be flipping pages of music). Many cues from Van as well as the keyboard player were needed to keep them together.
The strength of the songs and singing held the show together for me. I’ve been waiting forever to hear Van Morrison. I just wasn’t moved or transfixed. The crowd around me was lost a time or two and conversed loudly occasionally. I had hoped for more.
Not to say there weren’t highlights. The jazz worked amazingly on Moondance and at other times too. The take on I Can’t Stop LovingYou channeled Ray Charles perfectly. Morrison also showcased his chops on the harp, sax and even keys. The guy really is a force of nature still at 73.
It wasn’t until Morrison was coaxed back for an encore of Gloria that he let loose. The band nailed it and FINALLY I felt joy. Morrison seemed to be “into it” and exuded the star power and charisma that I had felt through speakers my entire life.
I’m satisfied that I went to the show. I got to hear songs I loved sung by the original artist (that sounded like a K-tell ad) in fantastic voice. I never believed that this would happen and it did. It wasn’t embarrassing (see Nelson, Willie), boring, or poorly played.
No other artist could skip these songs and make me feel lucky for the ones he chose: Bright Side of the Road, Sweet Thing, Have I Told You Lately, And It Stoned Me, Domino, Astral Weeks, Into The Mystic, Tupelo Honey, and Caravan. Yet given his penchant for eccentricity and not playing hits, I was thrilled we got as many as we did.