In a week where so many are reeling from the shocking loss of musical icon David Bowie, Van Morrison’s Saturday night performance at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium — his second of two sold-out shows last weekend — felt like a salve to that proverbial wound, stirring and soulful and life-affirming in the way that Morrison, at 70 years old, forges such a deep and palpable connection to his music, it’s impossible not to feel a similar closeness and affinity while listening.
As one audience member said, heading into the show with his beer cup half-drained. “With Bowie dying, I really needed this.”
While Morrison and Bowie weren’t like in their artistic sensibilities or the way they expressed themselves musically — Morrison’s jazz-rooted saxophone–laden sound bears little resemblance to Bowie’s ethereal glam rock genre — both artists, who came of age during the early years of the British invasion, possessed a devotion to their art that seems to have been lost with the current generation of pop singers. Bowie and Morrison never just sung their music — they were their music. And Morrison still is.
Born in Belfast, Northern, Ireland, the singer-songwriter emerged onto the scene in the early ‘60’s with his band Them, and later found commercial success with such hits as “Moondance,” “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Wild Night,” all three of which squeezed their way into Saturday’s hour-and-a-half-long set, but not at the expense of Morrison’s less widely-known but infinitely more personal and mellifluous tracks, like “Celtic Swing,” “In the Afternoon” and “Rough God Goes Riding,” which he performed on stage with his daughter, the singer Shana Morrison.
Backed up by trumpeter and musical director Paul Moran, guitarist Dave Keary, bassist Paul Moore, drummer Robbie Ruggiero and singer Dana Masters, Morrison, as he’s wont to do in concert, used many of his songs as light suggestions for his performance, using the original tunes as jumping off points to create songs with slightly different tempos and arrangements. To wit, Morrison and surprise guest Tom Jones infused “Sometimes We Cry” and “I’m Not Feeling It Anymore” with a heavier dose of R&B, bringing the crowd to its feet, then later followed up with a fervently-felt medley of “It’s All in the Game” / “Time Is Running Out” / “Waiting Game” / “No Plan B” / “Burning Ground.” Morrison closed with the ever-romantic ballad “Into the Mystic,” speeding it up a beat and contemporizing it as though it were a new song he’d just written, as if he were singing it for the first time and we were hearing for the first time.
What was most impressive about Morrison’s performance is his voice, as rich and velvety and poetic as it’s ever been. Close your eyes and you could have sworn you were back in 1968, the year Morrison’s second studio album, the hypnotic and poetic “Astral Weeks,” was released. But what marks Van Morrison as a true artist is that there is nothing static about his music. Like everything else in life, it keeps on changing.
For more concert dates, go to http://www.vanmorrison.com.