In Concert DVD
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There are few music lovers who would argue that Van Morrison doesn’t deserve living legend status. He has been a professional musician since the early days with Them, circa 1964, which puts him in the business for over 50 years, nearly all of them as a headliner. And while like his peer Bob Dylan, he hasn’t had many top charting hits, he’s acquired a mammoth and influential body of work over the decades, somewhere around 40 albums with no (well, few) outright duds. In 2017 alone he released two notable studio discs.
Still, compared to his lengthy career, which includes six live albums, there haven’t been many official Morrison concert DVDs. That makes this one, which includes two full shows from the Irish bard’s 2016 tour, so significant. It runs over two hours and covers most of the musical ground Van is known for;a combination of jazz, blues, soul, Celtic and a smattering of rock and roll (although his signature tune “Gloria” is conspicuously MIA).
The main attraction is a 75 minute, live in the BBC studio gig. The rich velvety blue lighting, smooth, professional camera work and stunning surround sound makes this the best looking Morrison live DVD. With five out of the 18 songs from his then latest album, Keep Me Singing, Van still mixes obscure originals, covers and his own well known classics “Wild Night,” “Here Comes the Night,” “Jackie Wilson Said,” and even “Brown Eyed Girl” to satisfy both old fans and those looking to hear his newest music.
His stripped down five piece band, which includes a female backing singer, is tight and able to shift musical gears with nonchalant ease. They sound terrific even if the music lacks a bit of an edge. But for 70 years old, Van hasn’t lost any of his distinctive vocal range and seems to be in good spirits, something fans have learned to never take for granted. He has also returned to playing sax and harmonica, along with occasional lead guitar, which brings additional layers and texture to the songs.
The “bonus” hour long Up on Cyprus Avenue finds Van back in Belfast on his 70th birthday. He’s playing outdoors with basically the same band and only two selections repeated from the BBC list. Neither the audio nor video is quite as slick as the other show and it takes about 20 minutes for him to warm to the occasion. But once he does, there are some stunning moments. Oddly, “Cyprus Avenue” is MIA, since this performance was recorded in Belfast’s Cyprus Hill, the locale for that early solo track. But Morrison excavates obscurities such as the opening sax led instrumental “Celtic Swing,” 1997’s “Burning Ground” and a riveting, ten minute, show closing “On Hyndford Street.” The latter finds him reminiscing in spoken word poetry about his childhood years and, for the only time on this disc, he seems psychologically transported. It’s a stunning piece and arguably worth the price of the package.
Longtime Morrison aficionados may grouse about what’s missing (no “Moondance,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic,” “Tupelo Honey,” the list goes on), but these are both impressive shows proving that even in his elder statesman years, he remains vibrant, intermittently enthusiastic and capable of delivering the goods live.
Morrison has earned every bit of his living legend status and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. These shows prove that, at least as of 2016, he still had plenty of gas left in his tank.