Van Morrison: Live At Liverpool Empire.
John McCready, NME, 1987
"Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder.
A six piece band swells proudly above a peal of almost impatient applause. Simple lighting marks the spot. Van Morrison ambles forward. Thick-set, still thinning and suited in black, he leads them through a set which quickly dispenses with expected nostalgia and lifts rather from later work; pacing his selection with a briskness drawn from a new seam of youthfulness and a powerfully pulse-like precision which speaks of renewed vigour.
A seamless and reverential dance through ‘Baby Please Don’t Go,’ ‘Gloria’ and ‘Here Come The Night’ leads to a brief jig with the crowd’s expectations. A crystal ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ still glows – an indefatigable melody spun quickly and precisely into the distance. ‘Jackie Wilson Says’ effectively puts an end to the requests that Van should go ‘Moondance’ing the night away.
On any other shoulders, Morrison’s transcendent reputation would weigh heavily and a map would be drawn along the most familiar route with reference aplenty to acknowledged achievements and established favourites. Instead we’re presented with an idiosyncratic choice which relies heavily on his blue-bright but frequently buried guitar work set unfussily in a framework of mirrored rhythms and the sharp, sympathetic and descriptive flow of twin saxophones.
A fountain of black sources mingle in Morrison’s lyrical Irish mists and a new spring of genius breaks through, the music rising; falling with words of hope and human triumph; laments of longing and regret.
But, live, he doesn’t appear to have much time for the Celtic reflections that permeate most of his later recorded work. Certain songs suffer under the uniformity which this businesslike band seems to impose. Moments like the tear-stained ‘Vanlose Stairway’ are lost as Morrison, apparently fired by the muscular ability of the musicians, slips into punching the message home with an ill-advised speed which isn’t always suitable.
As he sits behind the piano looking physically and emotionally drained, just halfway through a set that is close on two hours long, there’s a kind of restlessness in the master’s eyes.
He glances at the players – now running scared. Crescendos glow at the snap of his fingers as he sits strangely cool, cigarette in hand, nodding half-appreciatively like a man possessed; even trapped by his own creation.
The voice sears and growls – rough warm and inconsolably human, reeling wildly and then buckling under a seemingly intense burden of often mournful personal memories.
But Morrison is still unquestionably in control of his beautiful vision and that intensity, that insuperable ability to communicate his inarticulate speech, shows no sign of fading.
Encoring with an ironic ‘Send In The Clowns’; his vocal Irishness swimming close to the surface, he sings of "Losing my timing this late in my career" and provokes only appreciative smiles.
Rave on Van Morrison, rave on.
© John McCready, 1987
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