4th March 2005
Originally published in Wavelength magazine.
Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart
Have I Told You Lately
Back On Top
It Once Was My Life
Don’t Worry About A Thing
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Bright Side Of The Road
Whinin’ Boy Moan
All Work And No Play
Brown Eyed Girl
Before Van Morrison started, they announced that he would begin exactly at 8.00 and stop at 9.30. Add ‘exactly’ to the 9.30. I was sitting under the hall clock and they hit it to the second, not to the minute. Hardly an encore- Precious Time went straight into Brown Eyed Girl – 20 second exit, then Gloria. Period. The band gets crisper, but where we used to get at least one surprise there are now no surprises. The band had a new and brilliant drummer and keyboard player and Alex Dankworth was back, replacing David Hayes on bass. But nowadays it’s all about the horn section, which often adds Van as #3. He’s playing more sax every time I see him. He lines up with the old faithfuls (Matt Holland, Martin Winning, Ned Edwards) to his right and the three newer guys to his left. I got the impression that every number had twin horn solos, trumpet preceding sax to the halfway mark, then sax / clarinet preceding trumpet in the second half. Mercifully, we only got two guitar solos but three double bass solos.
His new album Magic Time is a few weeks away and we were expecting a song or two from it. In fact we’d guessed that the Bournemouth gig might be a try out for the new stuff live, a privilege we’ve had before. But not one single song, though that’s surely what the rest of the 2005 Tour (according to the T-shirt) will be promoting. The word is that he’s terrified of bootlegging to the extent that he won’t preview any new songs. Well, last night had nothing that recent bootleg collectors haven’t already got live in 2003 or 2004, so that figures.
Highlights? Well, no surprises at all, but Little Village is now the standout number as it has been for two years, he did the best Foreign Window I’ve heard, and a good Philosophers’ Stone. Maybe he’s been reading the Roddy Doyle novel ‘Oh, play that thing’ (which has his fictional hero Henry Smart working for Louis Armstrong in 1929) because we got an enjoyable Louis Armstrong send-up in Bright Side of The Road. The set list has crystallized, or rather got set near in stone, unusually for Van, and I’d seen every song before.
Unmissable because he’s Van and can still hit all the notes. The band has become very tight. But he joins Dr John as the ‘exactly 90 minute contractual obligation man’. I felt sorry for the people next to me who’d driven a long way and booked a hotel etc – they deserved, no, were owed, at least ONE proper encore. But don’t miss him if he’s you’re way. He might be going through the motions, but he still feels compelled to get out and play and his 6-piece band is very very tight. But the spontaneity has gone, which is why the band sounded even crisper and tighter than normal- it’s getting well rehearsed and they’re no more surprised than we are. He seems happy with an excellent little band, doing everything well, but not spectacularly.
I even got the feeling that Sack O’Woe, which preceded the inevitable closing trio (Precious time / Brown Eyed Girl / Gloria), was timed, then truncated, to make sure that they’d hit 90 minutes exactly. It’s the only song I noticed that Van actually called verbally – usually he calls or cues a lot of them – so I think the set list was pre-ordained, which it never used to be. Oh, and not a word to the audience all evening.
Looking at Van’s set lists in the USA on the Wavelength website, I wondered why we got this hackneyed closing trio which he didn’t do there. Twenty years back, we complained that he didn’t do Brown Eyed Girl, but now we’re getting it every time. I just wish he’d recall the other songs that the legend is based on and give them an airing from time to time.