A nearly sold-out Hollywood Bowl crowd enjoy a great evening with Van Morrison
Review by Scott Harmon
While this isn’t a revelation, an evening at the Hollywood Bowl on an early fall night can be well nigh spiritual. And so the table was set as Van Morrison strolled out nonchalantly from the darkened wings of the band shell to find a nearly sold-out venue full of fans eagerly waiting for him to raise them up and restore their faith in mankind, if only for an evening. A catharsis found in the reverie of the journey many have taken along with Morrison’s music.
His band launched into the song “Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From” off of his 2018 album The Prophet Speaks, a swinging song featuring some sassy trumpet soloing and an organ sounding as thick and rich as maple syrup left in the refrigerator. The singer telling a story of love’s disillusionment and betrayal reveals an artist whose vocal skills haven’t lost a beat after over half a century of performing and recording. They slid right into the song “It Was Once My LIfe” a seemingly autobiographical observation whose groove seems designed to taunt the attorneys in the “Got To Give It Up” litigation between the Marvin Gaye Estate and Pharell Williams. That pretty much describes the setlist. Van Morrison’s performances mix mostly new and not quite as well known songs with a sprinkling of the hits he is known for. That is the bargain one strikes when seeing a Van Morrison concert. And even his “hits” are at least slightly re-interpreted. Thankfully, this audience is among the initiated as they come knowing that regardless of the setlist, one is going to be treated to exceptional musicianship and that voice that begs a simile comparing it to a well-aged whiskey.
Most know, intuitively at least, that it’s the rhythm section that moves a band. And Morrison’s supporting cast including the bass and drums were superb in this regard. In particular, the trumpeter/flugelhorn player and vibraphonist stood out for their virtuosity, the vibraphonist sharing backup vocal duties with another woman of notable singing skills. Morrison gives the latter a couple of verses to showcase her talent and hers was a memorable performance. One curious observation is that there seemed to be a problem with the sound of the guitarist playing the nylon-cutaway. He was featured a few times filling breaks with legato runs and trills, but there appeared to be a short in the sound system and so some of his work was overshadowed by this technical glitch. One doesn’t see that very often at the Bowl.
The performance did finish up with an encore of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” which inspired many of the septuagenarians to get up out of their seats and dance. Very clever, this Van Morrison, leaving his audience with this tantalizing morsel from his vast collection of memorable songs. But, as Bobby Womack is apparently credited with saying, “Leave them wanting more and you know they’ll call you back.” I suspect Van Morrison is not so coy, however, but the effect is just the same.
In true Morrisonian fashion, Van the Man doesn’t talk to the audience. There’s no banter between the artist and the audience, no introductions to songs for the most part. It’s just straight-up music. And while there’s certainly music that can move one to dance, this show is almost like watching an eccentric alchemist playing in the lab. So, you’re not going to come away knowing how his tour is going or the status of his family’s search for a puppy. No, you’re going to be immersed into Van Morrison’s musical exploration and he’s not going to coax you to feel it, he’s just going to trust the music will get you there.
This tour finishes up here in the States with a performance at the North Island Credit Union Amphitheater in Chula Vista, California on October 8, 2019, before resuming two weeks later in England with stops throughout Europe before concluding back in England in March of 2020.