When we were leaving Japan to move back to Australia we decided to visit relatives in the United States. (We also took our dog from Japan to live in retirement with my wife’s parents in Orange County, California.) We then talked about including Europe in the trip and going all the way around the world. Surprisingly, it didn’t cost very much more than a direct Japan – Australia flight.
As we were planning the trip I thought “wouldn’t it be great if Van was playing somewhere close to where we wanted to go?” Eventually we decided that Van’s Berlin concert on May 9, 2008 was the one we’d aim for. This was to be our first time seeing Van live since living in Australia and Japan meant being cut off from Van’s usual concert locations. Seeing Van live was something I had thought about for years. Van fans in Britain and Europe have it so good with plenty of chances to see the Belfast Cowboy live. I guess that’s why I like reading Pat Corley’s blog so much. He's seen Van so many times and his concert reviews/reports are always great to read.
We eventually found our way in Berlin halfway through a Eurail Pass. The night came and we made our way to the recommended meeting spot at a restaurant near the Tempodrom. I saw a group of about 12 Van Fans there speaking German. There didn’t seem to be other places at the table so I didn’t go up and introduce myself. But it was great being there knowing in an hour of so we’d be seeing the Great Man.
We made our way over thinking the support band was just about to end. Then before we could go in he started. That beautiful wonderful voice that I’d heard thousands of times coming out of speakers or headphones was coming live through the concert hall doors. It was pure joy. (I sometimes wonder if he has any idea how much he means to so many of us?)
As we took our seats the first song was finishing. It was a jazzy number “This Love of Mine”. I took the scene in. The stage looked beautiful with the lighting, the instruments and the players crowded in close to Van. The building, however, looked a little strange being a supposed representation of a circus tent and having seen better days.
Van continued with a couple of slower numbers – “Magic time” and “Have I told you Lately”. I was enthralled and let the music wash over me. The band seemed excellent but it was my first time so maybe my opinion isn’t so informed! I counted 12 people on stage including Van. It was fascinating watching Van in total control of all these players yet gracious enough to acknowledge them on their solos. He seemed to use hand signals a lot and then would stand and watch his players at work. He played a lot of sax and then some ukulele, harp, guitar and piano. I was surprised by the ukulele because I hadn’t heard the new album by this stage which features Van playing ukelele for the first time on an album. I thought Sarah Jory was great on steel guitar and so did everyone else. She received a tremendous reception and you got the impression that she contributes a lot to the band.
The country styled “Playhouse” was next. Then four songs from the new album. I hadn’t heard them before but thought they were great. There was “Keep it Simple”, “That’s Entrainment”, “Lover Come Back” and “End of the Land”. I thought they particularly sounded great in concert and I really wanted to get the new album when I was finished travelling.
A couple of ‘standards' followed – “Bright side of the Road” and “Moondance”. They were great and particularly well received. It’s funny how the standards tend to get the cheers more than newer but equally excellent songs. “Moondance” was excellent with the big band sound. “Stranded” and then “Precious Time” followed. Both were great. I can remember just enjoying everything as this dream of seeing Van live came true. My clapping seemed to annoy the German couple sitting next to me but I didn’t care.
“In the Afternoon” was next. It was an incredible version of this song. Van fans love what the man does with songs. 'Expect the unexpected' is the guiding principle for a Van concert and “In the Afternoon” proved the principle true. “In the Afternoon” was transformed into trancelike incantations of a few other Morrison songs like “Ancient Highway” and “Raincheck”. The newspaper review found on the “Van Morrison News Blog” says that “So Quiet in Here” and lyrics from a few other songs were also included. The song gradually got quieter and quieter near the end with just the sound of a muffled trumpet accompanying Van. And then it just stopped. There was a wonderful period of silence and then the audience went crazy.
The next song was an upbeat “Star of the County Down”. This was followed by “Behind the Ritual” from “Keep it Simple”. It definitely is a new classic and deserves to sit alongside Van’s best songs. Van walked off the stage singing it which was kind of interesting. The audience cheered and Van surprised us all by returning to the stage for a great version of “The Healing Has Begun”.