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October 28, 2009

Concert review: Van Morrison at the Meyerhoff

van morrison

JazzTimes managing editor Evan Haga saw Van Morrison last night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Here are his thoughts:

The Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison is one of popular music's great contradictions, as he proved last night during a 90-minute set at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The performance was, on several levels, bewildering.

Over the last four-plus decades, Morrison has written indelible melodies and delivered them in his singular blue-eyed-soul shout, a sort of half-croak, half-belt that feels at once homey and otherworldly. He has recorded songs, like "Brown Eyed Girl," that even children know to sing along to. People genuinely feel like they own his music, even when it's dressed in jazz and Celtic flourishes.

But what he offers, even as it's anchored in American roots and R&B, is so totally esoteric. A notoriously diffident and difficult personality, Morrison, like Bob Dylan, is now less interested in celebrating those terrific melodies than being a roots bandleader ...

Morrison spent most of the Meyerhoff gig directing his crack nine-piece ensemble (with strings) through simmering vamps and R&B shuffles, stoically cuing a keyboardist to lay out here, inviting a guitarist to bend a few more bluesy licks there. You heard stop-time percussion solos, long, true notes played on soprano sax and flute, corner-bar organ and muted, Miles Davis-esque trumpet. For many in the audience, it very well may have been the most they’d ever listened to improvised music.

Morrison himself holds musicianship dear, even if his chops on guitar and sax are middling (he fares better on harmonica). His voice is the thing, and he treats it like his horn, turning lyrics into syllabic scats, re-harmonizing songs whose melodies are set in stone (as he did on "Moondance"), and generally understanding that his inflection and phrasing are more important than enunciation.

There's a parlor game I play at shows like these, especially Dylan. Compare what you remember to what you’re hearing: Last night, "You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow," a favorite line from "In the Garden," became "You'll ride the T. Rex tomorrow."

It's the voice that makes for moments of transcendence, no matter how much attention Morrison pays to his band. His generous croon over the striding "And the Healing Has Begun" and thrusting "Gloria" almost made up for how unaccommodating he is as a performer. In case you're wondering, "Brown Eyed Girl" was tossed off at the very top of the show.

The hour and a half flew by without Morrison acknowledging his audience, and there was no encore despite the crowd's floor-shaking request for one. There were also tech issues: Toward the beginning, a radio signal was continuously funneled into the sound system, providing a serious distraction during ballads, and the house lights seemed constantly in flux throughout.

You might chalk all or at least some of this up to Van the Man's legendarily defiant being. But with tickets running roughly $80 to $350, legend only goes so far.

(Photo of Van Morrison performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles by Getty Images)


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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:41 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Concert reviews
        

Comments

hola;

couldn't make last nights show..anyone have the set list

Paul
Somerville, MA

Couldn't agree more with the review. I have been a fan of Van Morrison my whole life so it was great to see him live, at the same time I came away slightly dissapointed.

Setlist here:
http://vanmorrisonnews.blogspot.com/

An hour and a half at those ticket prices?
And, the crowds of folks who apparently can't read English and have to be seated after 8 pm.
And frankly, the musicianship wasn't as good as heard at various taverns locally.
On the whole, a disappointment.

Your review mirrored mine. I almost laughed when I read it!
I saw him at DAR on the Friday this past summer and it was a different experience all together.

I was wondering at points last night if.........................

Well, at least he played some of his hits, unlike his show at DAR.. it was decent, but not outstanding, due to his quintessential grumpiness, and the other technical issues you have listed. He is quite a unique performer, that much can be said. I probably would not see him again.

A thought it was a great night of jazzy pop that Van does better than anyone else. Other than the radio interference, the sound was spot on. The band was great, those must be some clubs where nosfeatu hangs. OTOH, I was disappointed because it was my understanding that he was playing the whole of Astral Weeks as a second set on this toyr but he diidn't play a single tune from that LP.

Grumpy yes. Musically great but it was a concert promoted as Astral Week and not one bar of Sweet Thing. Totally loved the slight change on Moondance. Van had been on my bucket list for decades; was it worth the wait - not sure. Did not leave the concert with the excited great show butterflies in my stomach.

Despite the technical issues and abrupt ending, last night's performance was, musically, very impressive. Two things that were disconcerting. First, the overly stuffy ‘Ballmore’ crowd who followed the etiquette of a symphony performance as opposed to 'loosening the tie' for what was a light-rock show. Second, the venue needs either better signage or people on hand to locate seats. It took us 15 minutes to finally sit! Nonetheless, Van offers a unique performance that is second to none.

I didn't attend - thought ticket prices were outrageous - but checking Ticketmaster gave the impression that there was great availability of tickets even one day before so how large was the crowd? Thanks

I've never understood the reverance some people feel toward Van Morrison. Most of his work is unintelligible and his "artist" attitude makes matters worse. I was bored to deat at the show...

Now, if you want to talk about a real artist/curmudgeon, let's talk about Neil Young. His musicianship blows Morrison away, and I think his voice, while unique, offers much more meaning, insight and emotion than Van Morrison.

Overall, Neil is a much more multi-dimensional artist. I'd love to see Neil at the Meyerhoff...

I agree with many comments made in this review and by those above.

To clarify some things---Van stopped doing Astral Weeks at every show WEEKS ago. Though seeing the rather tacky merchandise was interesting. On the poster it states every show that will have Astral Weeks played, yet for whatever reason you cannot find that information on any of the fan sites.

I'm a little curious of a couple things: one being how the lighting director can hold a job. The house lights were burning my retna at the beginning of the show, and took way too long to turn down. Not to mention, using light shades and bright lights to highlight a floor that was only 1/2 full is head scratching.

Which I will say, The Meyerhoff has to pay a premium to get an act like Van, who gets paid no matter what, but they should be 100% ASHAMED and anyone responsible for ticket pricing as well for charging up to $320 a ticket. Hopefully seeing a near empty venue will smack some sense into them. At the same time, anyone who wants front row tickets to a show at symphony hall doesnt really get it. Sound quality at venues like this is much better 20 rows back then 2.

Overall, I thought the musicians were all excellent, but it got a bit tiring seeing every number turn into a solo for each musician. Instead, how about better song selection? Another note that seemed almost laughable---Van feeling the need to "que," each musician for their solo as if they havent played every song to death already and havent rehearsed any of it. If he considers pointing to someone for a solo "improv," then he is searching for more than the "Philosophers Stone." Van seems determined to play tracks from later albums out of spite, and thinking that throwing a few classics at us is a welcome hand. And especially when those classics are played poorly. Gloria ended ubruptly, brown eyed girl was uninspiring, and moondance seemed out of touch. Fair Game was the highlight of the show for me. I may be slightly disgruntled due to missing Astral Weeks, but I made sure to let that go after the 5 song of the evening.

I was happy to pay $85 for quality balcony seats, but certainly wouldnt be willing to wait outside 2 hours before tickets went on sale to make sure I get what seemed to be a sure to sell out show again.

Kudos to the remarks on the stuffy crowd!
I drove over from WV, ready to roll with Van, and roll we did, but most of the folk there appeared to have no idea who he is or what he's all about. The only problem was not enough 'Astral Weeks'.
Van is Van, he is not a sweetheart, but he is a genius.

"...inflection and phrasing is more important than annunciation."

Is it possible you meant ...inflection and phrasing are more important than enunciation. ?

Please hire me as your proofreader because I need a job and you need help.

Yours truly,

The Virgin Mary

I agree with most of this review. Overall a great musical performance. This was truly a stuffy crowd, it's sad when folks look at you cross-eyed because you're emotionally charged by the music and have a tough time sitting still, but that's the Meyerhoff for ya.

I loved the heavy improv. feel of the whole night. Jam on Van!

Lastly, I don't care who you are... do an encore!!!

Last

Octoquad ... LMAO. Having experienced the Annunciation, we'll look forward to the Assumption.

I totally DISagree with most people's comments here.

I felt like the show was a GREAT show, and it showed how TALENTED Va Morrison is. I must have seen him play at least 5 different instruments, while all at the same time direct his band. The sound was amazing!

Oh and to the guy who said that the sound quality is much better 20 rows back as apposed to two rows back has been misinformed. I sat in the front rows was amazing! I was very pleased with the sounds of the band.

Overall a GREAT concert, and I would go see Van again.

Man there are some critical people with a lot of axes to grind. Lots to disagree with but rather than offer the other side of the coin on all of them I'll just say I was glad I was there, was happy with the experience & Van's performance and appreciative of CVan as an artist regardless of hois personality.

Ok, I can't resist a few more comments. For one the house music or radio frequency was annoying. That & the overabundance of individual solos were my only complaints. I would rather have seen the band "Jamming" as a whole as opposed to each one stepping up over & over to take their individual solos. The sound was great from the 2nd row. I have seen shows at the Meyerhoff, Lyric and similar rooms where it does sound better further back for sure but last night you were hearing the stage mix from the 1st few rows as opposed to the PA and it sounded great. incredible seperation, you could every pluck of every note.

I would have loved a longer show but felt I got my money's worth even though I have never paid that much for a ticklet to any one act before despite seeing 75-100 shows a year for the last 10+ years. Hell I have seen entire 4 day festivals featuring 100 bands for less ... but my own cost benefit analysis made it money well spent.

pardon the inevitable typos from typing in this little box....

i totally enjoyed the show. there is no denying the musical talent of van morrison. (5 instruments and vocals!) his music takes you places that make you feel like you are in a garden all wet with misty rain. i was fortunate enough to be close enough to see van smile.
he enjoyed performing last night. i thought it was pretty magical.

Bad concert; no, horrible concert; and I am a big VM fan. No energy and band was not tight at all. Van did not say a word to the crowd, not one, walked off the stage and did not return. No encore despite 10 min of clapping (not deserved). This was a plain rip off; selling Van's name and delivering a horrible concert.. At $60 each, perhaps worthwhile.Van could not play the guitar at all; it is just a prop. Very sad for him, but not fair to an audience paying a fortune to not disclose what you are really getting. Individually band members were very talented and delightful to hear. Their repetitive solos (almost every song) covered for Van’s multitude of misses. Moondance, Brown Eye G, and Gloria were almost unrecognizable. Radio signal playing in the stage left speakers for the first 15 minutes was distracting. Lighting was random with theater lights way too bright and bouncing around. Amazing technical incompetence. Meyerhoff staff managed seating poorly and blocked views for first 45 minutes. Very disappointed. Don't spend your money here. Ric

I agree with most of the comments here - we enjoyed the music, but were disappointed by not being able to understand a word that came out of VM's mouth! The musicians were very good, but how boring - every song we had to listen to a solo by each musician, in the same order. Can't even mix that order up? My goodness - so glad we ran out at the end and didn't wait for the non-existent encore! Also glad we bought the $122 seats instead of more expensive ones - I would have REALLY been upset!

My 2nd time seeing Van live. I was surprised he started so promptly, 8;04.For a $125 ticket I expected to be led to my seat instead of directed to the wrong seat which required an embarrassing relocation 6 songs into the concert. I really enjoyed the show. I liked the way he featured his top notch band with short solos complementing songs like Moondance and" No Guru, No Method, No Teacher" which was, by far, the most exciting song of the night bringing the crowd to their feet. I feel I know most of Van's music but there were many songs I did not recognize,does he have a new album out? Despite the chatty couple behind me, a thank you to the gentleman who asked them to shut up, and the seating snafu, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Van is a unique artist and performer in many ways, No hellos,no thank yous,no hi how are ya,no band introductions,no goodbyes and no encores just a tightly delivered night of his wonderful music. Rave On,Van,Rave On.

I saw Van play last night at the MGM Grand theater in Ct. the tickets were $125 and we sat in the last row. I am 58 and have been to many concerts and that was the worst I've ever been to. I dont care how good he thinks he is, he never acknowledged the audience, there was no encore. He came out and played for exactly 90 minutes and left the stage abruptly. Sorry Van but you are no preformer in my book. Very dissapointing!

I saw him at The MGM Theatre in Ct as well. Many comments were correct-he doesn't interact with the audience, there was no encore (never been to a show without one). However you have to know his music to enjoy it. He really is one of those artists-you have to be a fan. His voice, music, band was all great. At Foxwoods the crowd was older not alot of life and too many people who had no idea of who he is.

Also, went to the MGM Grand and LOVED every minute. I am a long time Van fan and did not expect to be entertained rather to enjoy his awesome music. I was not disappointed.

I wen to the Meyerhoff - sat in the balcony - even tho I agree with some of the criticism voiced here - I loved the show.....Van is Van - he is not really a performer so much as a musician.....and he was really into some of these songs. He should just retire Brown Eyed Girl, Gloria, and Moondance. The rare cuts like Philosophers Stone, In the Garden, County Down (opening song on piano!) were the highlights....I can't believe I heard him play Fair Play........I've seen Van before so I knew he wouldn't address or acknowledge the crowd.....his voice is amazing....don't seek to understand each word, that's not what he's after.... ultimately, wonderful music.....transcendent at times.....best I've heard him on sax in ages.....sorry some of you didn't enjoy......

he coughed a lot. i think he was ill, and that's why there was a lot of [great] improv, to help him conserve his voice. fine by me, at least he didn't cancel. i loved "queen of the slipstream".
there is a link between the ticket prices and the audience reaction -- at those levels of investment, you don't want to intrude on people's experience as people do at a rock concert. it's not the meyerhoff crowd, it's respect for the performers and the people around you. rows near me, an over-40 crowd, seemed to know his work and appreciate the new spin on old favorites.
i thought 90 minutes was perfect. i wanted more but was home by 10:00pm on a tuesday night.
i would definitely go to see him again.

I drove seven hours from Tennessee just to attend this concert and Van the Man honestly melted my soul a little. And even though I'm only 23 years old, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the concert will remain in the "Top Ten Best Moments of My Life" list. He's still got it.
(I was however a little confused seeing as if the name of the tour was "Astral Weeks Live" and I don't remember hearing him play anything from that album. It was still a fantastic show, regardless.)

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at erik.maza@baltsun.com. Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.
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