Monday, April 16, 2007

Can You Feel the Silence?

This was a question that Van Morrison asked us repeatedly in his 'mystical' phase. Well - I'm disappointed to have to tell you that I couldn't really feel it on Friday night. Don't get me wrong - a night out to a Van Morrison gig is, in my opinion, never a wasted evening. But I think the reason that is the case is almost because we see 'through' what is presented to our senses in the here and now back to the glory days of 25-30 years ago (and beyond - Astral Weeks was 1968). What we see now is a fat, grumpy man in a black coat, dark glasses and a trilby (delta bluesman stylee - that's how Van sees himself now) playing swing and skiffle, but in our minds we see the shamanic Van - the Van of 'Ballerina' or 'When the healing has begun' - who was able to take us on a mystical journey of musical ecstacy.

It was a packed out gig. My heart sank somewhat when his elderly band came on before him and did a track on their own - a really predictable, pedestrian blues song. But then Van came on and launched into 'Enlightenment' - not exactly a classic but certainly a song that is more representative of the mystic Van.

More blues followed (yawn) and then there was a lovely moment of confusion where there was some debate onstage as to what came next on the set-list. Seizing the opportunity the audience started shouting out all their favourite Van songs - and what was interesting was that they were all the old stuff - the stuff he doesn't play anymore. At this point Van spoke (a very rare occurrence) saying "that was fun - does anyone else have any suggestions" - before ignoring us all and plodding on with some more blues.

It left me wondering why he's walked away from what I would consider his best stuff. He hardly did any slow songs and even the classics that he did do he reworked to take the soul out of them (I mean he even took a song like 'Have I told you lately that I love you' and did it in a big band, swing style!). Pippa thinks he just can't handle the intensity of it anymore especially in front of big audiences - it's too intimate, too vulnerable.

Anyway, the 90 minute set ended with an encore (another rarity for Van) of 'Gloria' and he nailed it - spot on. He had the whole crowd on their feet (yes it was one of those grown-up, sit down gigs), clapping and punching the air and he did it like we knew it. He had us in the palm of his hand and he could have taken us on from there and probably really enjoyed it himself. But he exited stage left as the band played the outro.

Being the saddos that we are we went round the back of the theatre to the stage door to see him leave. We waited with about 20 or so others of the faithful and then out he came - wearing a woolly hat and scarf which was quite a contrast to his stage persona - had a bit of trouble opening the door of his BMW and then his driver whisked him away into the night.

So seeing Van these days is always a bittersweet experience. We reflected on this some more over a nightcap in the Randolph Hotel and then his band came in through the front door. We wondered whether they might be staying there. No sign of Van himself though.

Where has he gone?

4 comments:

Nadia said...

Matt,
What Van Morrison albums do you recommend most?

Ian Adams said...

thanks Matt for your Into the music recommendation. I'm in a trance-like state. See my blog for more... peace
ian

slofloat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
slofloat said...

Matt,
After slogging through several reviews of Van's new album "Keep It Simple" I came across your evaluation of his contemporary drift. Thanks for an interesting assessment of a man you seem believe has become a ghost.