Van Morrison at Red Rocks
I went to see the legendary Van Morrison tonight. Having long been a fan of Van, I knew I would never get to see him. See, Van is known for not touring. The reason is (or was) that he had horrible stage fright, and would only get onstage if he was drunk. Now, that seems like an awful generalization... but I have bourn witness. Not personally of course, because Van hasn't been to Colorado in 28 years. Van is also very well known for his rock star temperament. It was well described in a thorough piece by Mark Brown of the Rocky Mountain News. He said that Van was in his top 5 concerts ever, and this is a guy who goes to rock concerts for a living. He also said that Van was in his worst 5 concert experiences.
That being said, I plunked down my $100 (for the cheat seats, in fact I had to stand in the aisle all night) and got ready to see the man. He gave the radio stations fair warning and told all that 'Van will play promptly at 7:30 pm with no opening band and will be offstage at 8:45 pm.
So the band enters at 7:35 and does some jazz. I should emphasize the jazz point. His band was a jazz band, and a terrific one at that. He had about a 6 piece band, horn section and all. Everyone was in suits, and played their asses off. After the intro jam piece, Van saunters out looking like he does in those pictures you see, suit, sunglasses, and pork pie hat. It was off to a classic Van start when he berated the drummer to play harder. Trust me, this was not a 'let's kick it up a notch', but a firm scolding. I think Van forgot he had the mike in his hand. The first few songs were terribly bland. Keep in mind that Van's voice was in amazing top form... flawless... but there was little passion felt. As I told my buddy, I wanted more Van and less band. He did a couple of epic classics in this early part, which to me totally fell flat. There was 'Have I told you lately' which he reconfigured to be a shitty mid tempo lounge song.
Then, the band kicks into 'Moondance'. Let's be honest, this is the moment we were all waiting for. It was a craptacular phoned in formula piece. I was getting really disappointed at this point, fearing just an hour of Van going through the motions and picking up a paycheck. I think somehow Van felt our complacency, because he went to an audible. He turned to the band and said 'Brown eyed girl'. I know this wasn't the setlist because the dudes all dropped their instruments and scrambled to compensate. With 'Brown eyed girl' Van tore the sold out house apart. It was a powerful and (most importantly) rendered just the way we remember it from the radio. After that, everything got better. His song choices seemed more interesting, and his passion was fully there. Here are some highlights of the setlist as I remember them: back on top, days like this, moondance, have I told you lately, gloria, jackie wilson said, and certainly a few from his terrific new disc 'Magic Time'.
The show ended after about 90 minutes of music when Van wandered off stage at the end of a song... but still playing harmonica the whole time. I should note that Van is an amazing musician. Though the show he played sax, guitar, and harmonica fluidly. It was clear there would be an encore because the band stayed put. The band kicked in the distorted guitar chords of 'Gloria', and the crowd went apeshit. Van cruised out and just nailed it.
Overall it was an amazing show, with a terribly boring beginning. Van delivered though, he is the best jazz singer in the business for good reason. By the end of the night, all was forgetten about the first half hour. Tangent alarm > a cool experience was that I ran into Denver's most excellent Mayor Hickenlooper. He was very cool and gracious. He had no posse or security, and was in the cheap seats with us.
In summation, the show was everything I expected. I mean, I got to see the stand offish rock star who never once acknowledged the crowd with even a 'hello'. I got to see him berate his drummer in front of 10,000 people on a cold Colorado night. I got to see the best singer alive, and I got to hear the hits I came for. It was a well rounded Van Morrison experience. Van is only doing four dates in America on this tour, the last being tomorrow night in Jersey. If you get the chance, see him. But, you won't. Dude is more reclusive President Bush' ethics team. It might also be noted that Van sold the show out in three minutes. According to the promoter, that was 'faster than even U2'. Miraculously these tickets somehow went to actual fans. I didn't see a single scalper or here a even one ticket for sale in the many hours we drank in the lot.