(Fox Theatre, Detroit, MI - July 9th, 2008)
Equal parts blue-eyed soul shouter and wild-eyed poet-sorcerer, Van Morrison is among popular music's true innovators, a restless seeker whose incantatory vocals and alchemical fusion of R&B, jazz, blues, and Celtic folk produced perhaps the most spiritually transcendent body of work in the rock & roll cannon.
Tonight, on a beautiful evening the 62-year-old singer graced our presence with his truly unique mix of folk, blues, soul, jazz, gospel sound. With the lights low, and only black curtains adorning the set with a variance of lighting on them throughout the show, somehow, the music is enough to captivate and mesmerize you. There is clearly no need for bells and whistles to distract you from the pure sound of music at its finest.
Emerging to a standing ovation, Van "The Man" saunters out with his nine-piece supporting cast at the elegant Fox Theatre in Detroit. He then ensured that the following 95-minute set was beyond worthwhile; and yet still contained some rare twists and turns.
Standing confidently in a gray suit and black hat, Morrison's vocals were truly amazing as was the performance of his seven musicians and two female singers. Sarah Jory, a find guitarist seems to pull things together and get the crowd to their feet; clapping during several of Morrison's songs. Indeed, she is a key part of the entire performance and keeps things jumping.
Beginning the night with 'Wild Night' he proceeds on into 'Why Must I Always Explain' - a song culled from a 1993 interview with Victoria Clarke in which he expressed that he didn't "really want to have to explain" himself because he's "not really interested in doing that. If I was I would be somebody else." The sound is remarkable and is similar to watching a mini orchestra play with all the instruments just right on cue. It is noticeable that they have sheet music as Morrison's performance will never be the same two nights in a row. Beating to the rhythm of his own drum, Morrison's talent oozes from the stage; It is quickly apparent to all that are witnessing this performance tonight that Morrison's voice is pitch perfect, that his devotion is on cue, and that we are in for a wonderful night.
He quickly then sails into 'Tupelo Honey' - a great song but just one that didn't have the right amount of impact tonight - and follows it up with 'Saint Dominic's Preview' (where in truth a rousing horn section ala the original was sorely missing), but still the entire band were up on their feet. 'Keep It Simple' from the new album of the same name is next followed by 'On My Way Back' (the audience now clapping along with Jory), and the moment is brought to a close with both 'Wavelength' (a longer than required version, at that) and (lit in blood red) a defining cover of Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably Numb.'
The track, which Morrison originally performed back in 1990 when Roger Waters staged the classic Pink Floyd album 'The Wall' live in Berlin, resulted in some hair-raising, spine-tingling moments on this night. While looking down at a lyrics sheet, he managed to make the song into his own with his unique, powerful range and passion.
By this stage his vocals mixed with the bands music simply pops off the stage like art on a canvas! The harmonica is his next choice of instrument and he begins playing as 'I Just Wanna Make Love to You' (with Jory choreographing everyone to have their fingers snappin' the whole time) is brought to the fore. 'And The Healing Has Begun' is next, it's ending a delicate harmonica bed, before he states to his band "Go tell your mama" and brings us 'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.'
Further on and 'Domino' brings the crowd back to his feet and is an obvious crowd pleaser, which he follows with ''Rough God Goes Riding' - which he adds: "Just like Billy The Kid, just like Clint Eastwood, just like "Wild Bill" Hickock, ... Yeah, plumb nice day!"
And as the strains of music continued to filter all around him, Van Morrison finally (silently) exited; only to quickly return for 'Gloria,' capping off a night that was far from predictable.
In my opinion though I would have to equate the experience with going to a fancy restaurant. One where the Chef has his exquisite daily specials of which you know you should partake - as he has perfected them over time for the delight of his "audience." And then there's the regular menu of chicken fingers that everyone is familiar with. To my mind Van Morrison has carried out this same theory in his delivery on stage tonight.
For he left the audience wanting for more in his 95 minute performance and not playing the songs everyone was hungering for - 'Brown Eyed Girl,' 'Into the Mystic,' 'Crazy Love,' 'Someone like You,' 'Bright Side of the Road' - I have to admit left people around me wondering why!
I have to say I wouldn't have missed the show and it was worth the price of admission, as steep as it was for the average Joe, but in as much as I like the Chef's special I LOVE Chicken Fingers! Well, I'm sure by now you get the point!
Review by: Lara A. Marcinkowski
Additional reporting by: Bill Axtell
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