1 October 2002
Originally published in Wavelength magazine
Freddie Freeloader (Miles Davis)
Steal My heart Away
T for Texas
Sometimes We Cry (+ Chris Farlowe)
Hey, Mr DJ! (+ Chris Farlowe)
Days Like This
Have I Told You Lately
All Work and No Play
Whining Boy Moan
Back On Top
Stand By Me (+ Chris Farlowe)
Gloria (+ Chris Farlowe)
Brown Eyed Girl
A short contractual (near) 90 minutes- 50 minutes shorter than some in Bournemouth. Van’s sense of immaculate timing isn’t quite up to Dr. John, who hit the 90 minutes to the second a year ago at the same venue, but Van did appear to get at least three roadie timechecks towards the end. At least he didn’t look at his watch. The Sunday papers had reported Van’s fury at the Clinton Heylin biography, and his attempts to stop its publication. He must have finally got hold of a copy because he was not in a sunny mood. A short show was predicted, and the predictions were dead on.
Van did about half the new Down the Road album – Indian Summer, Choppin’ Wood, Steal My Heart Away, Hey Mr DJ, All Work and No Play, Evening Shadows, and my hope of the last few shows that he’d do fewer covers was finally fulfilled. I’ve always felt it a waste to do generic blues and R&B numbers when you’re sitting on one of the richest back catalogues in the business. There was no ‘Help Me’ (Thank goodness), but also no Down The Road (tragically) and the only real covers were Night Train, and Stand By Me with Chris Farlowe. Not a lot of blues and no country. He did Whining Boy Moan, which he’s been doing for a while but hasn’t recorded, or rather hasn’t released, yet. There was only one extended version of a song, and hardly a sign of a medley (he did tack a couple of lines of There Goes My Baby onto Stand By Me, but that was it). This meant a very different show to the last couple of years. And you know the old story, when you get what you’ve been asking for, it so often turns out to be a disappointment.
It started out with a great instrumental from the band, moving into a controlled, restrained Night Train with Van blowing honking sax. Indian Summer’s been familiar at the start for a while, and when he moved into the lovely Steal My Heart Away I was hoping for a great performance, but I felt he wasn’t doing the song justice. The guitar came out for T for Texas, he took it off at the end, put it down, paused and picked it up again. It was going to be Sweet Thing. This was the stand out by a mile, a sublime performance with Van on guitar, with violin and flute. Terrific guitar playing, and the longest number in the show. Van’s guitar playing is always interesting and he plays for the song, in contrast to Dylan’s recent interminable solos (while better guitarists stand behind him strumming). Ned had moved to violin and the interplay was the best thing I’ve seen him do in ages, and it looked like a classic show was under way.
In retrospect, it was completely the wrong place to bring on Chris Farlowe and switch the mood, but that’s what he did for Sometimes We Cry and Hey, Mr D.J.! I wonder why Farlowe doesn’t wear spectacles during his own opening set, but then wears them for Van’s set? He looks as if he’s been reading the paper backstage, and the cardigan doesn’t help. It was the first time I’d heard Hey, Mr DJ! on stage, and it didn’t gel for me. The band sounded short of a few personel (as they were in comparison to the record), and Farlowe doesn’t compensate for the missing chorus.
It went a bit desultory right after that. I don’t like the jazzy, scatty version of Cleaning Windows of recent years, because the song’s too good to mess with, though it was enlivened by a new sax solo (again from Van). To me it’s that the recent line-ups can’t get the dynamics of the song. Then we were into unadorned single-length run throughs of the recent stuff back-to-back with little space between them: Evening Shadows, a competent Days Like This, a pretty dire Have I Told You Lately. Then a lively All Work and No Play made me think he was getting back into it. His play with stacatto phrasing improves it over the album cut, and the horn section seemed to come alive when they had the call and response stuff to do. Then Whining Boy Moan, Back on Top and once he’d hit Precious Time you were 100% sure that he was heading for the end. He left for encores at a thin 72 minutes. The encores were predictable. Stand By Me and Gloria, both with Chris Farlowe, are numbers he couldn’t do badly if he tried, and then Brown Eyed-Girl to finish with an added sax solo.
Van played a lot of sax, guitar in two numbers but left harmonica to the guitarist, Ned. The horn section has been cut down from three to two, but he played enough sax himself to compensate. He does need a good backing vocalist or two (or three) which he hasn’t got, relying on the guitarist and organist, or Chris Farlowe in the four duets. After the plodding bass of the last couple of years it was great to see David Hayes back up there with electric double bass and bass guitar. Unfortunately it was poorly mixed for where I was up in the balcony, though I was told the bass sound was good downstairs. The bass amplification seemingly relied on one 18 inch speaker, which I assume was miked through the PA (perhaps not though), but both guitar and bass had small amps and the rhythm section with lightly-miked drums was under-represented in the mix. It was the mix at fault, because the electric double bass in the opening instrumental before Van came on was perfect. Double bass is hard to amplify, and too often it was mud.
Oh, the other thing, you’d have got in to the show on the night. It was only about 90% full – in a small hall which usually sells out the first few days of ticket availability. In the balcony, I noticed that the cheaper seats at the extreme ends were full, with the gaps being the expensive seats which are little better than the cheap ones – a note on pricing there. Downstairs one whole row was empty halfway back, which usually means a ticket agency balls-up, or maybe it was the last row before the price changed. To sum, a desultory show, but Sweet Thing was worth the price of admission on its own.