EUROPA HOTEL, BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND
MARCH 16, 2013
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Europa Hotel. Tonight, this is the best place in the world to be."
It was an eclectic crowd, pretty much the norm for a Van show. I guessed that I might be the only single at my table, but my seatmate was Alan, who had flown over from Denmark for his first Van concert, a definite fan. I thought perhaps I’d travelled the furthest, from Northern California, but apparently there was someone there from Australia.
Shana Morrison was there to help out pop and she “opened” the show with an abridged version of the band, doing three quick numbers, including And It Stoned Me and a kickass (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. With barely a break, the rest of the band was onstage and broke into the intro for Only A Dream. With a simple “Van Morrison” from one of the band, the man appeared—and magic happened.
The music was nonstop. As a member of Van’s band, you’ve got to be paying attention at all times. He doesn’t work from a setlist, and when he calls the tune and counts it off, you’ve got to be ready to go—lest you get one of those “looks.”The second tune out of the gate was “Makin’ Whoopee,” with Shana adding some nice interaction to a very jazzy version of the song. He went to the new album, Born To Sing—No Plan B, for Open The Door To Your Heart, and a bit later for Goin’ Down To Monte Carlo. He introduced “Monte Carlo” by saying, “This is off the new CD. It’s not being promoted at the minute, so who cares?” Ah, Van, still at odds with the music industry…
There were classics, to be sure. After a brief discussion with the keyboard player, he introduced Got To Go Back by saying, “If this doesn’t work, it’s your fault!” The whole band had a part in a gorgeous rendition of Standing In The Garden, and the beginnings of Beautiful Vision got a gasp and a whoop from the audience.
There were also the covers that Morrison makes his own. His country side came out with the Don Gibson classic I Can’t Stop Loving You. And his introduction of, “We’re getting too serious here, I’ve gotta get back to the Las Vegas set,” preceded That Old Black Magic. (Glenn Miller, eat your heart out.)There were two high points in the show for me. The first came five songs in, when Morrison did an incredible rework of Wavelength, dropping the speed of the original a bit, twisting it into a jazzy shuffle and mesmerising the crowd. He followed that with Sometimes We Cry, from 1997’s The Healing Game. Brian Kennedy and Georgie Fame, a couple of Morrison cohorts, did some of the vocal work on the original, but Van and Shana have been performing it live together recently. I had heard about it, but never heard it. Father and daughter were never better together.
The other high point ended the show. The evening was seasoned mostly with a jazz feel, but as a lover of Morrison’s blues side, I was thrilled to hear the intro guitar licks of Baby Please Don’t Go. Van gave credit to Big Joe Williams, who penned the song back in the 30’s, and then tore through alternating harmonica licks and vocals with a vengeance. And with a nod to Sonny Boy Williamson, he said, “We’re gonna stay with the blues here,” and went directly into a 10-minute version of his live-show staple, Help Me.Morrison left the stage, which usually signals the end of the show, but the unmistakable three-chord intro of Gloria brought the man back out for one more. As much as I’ve disliked the version of Gloria that I’ve heard at other Van shows, this one was special. Everybody got up from their tables and made their way to the front of the room, thereby decreasing the size of an already small space. It was like seeing the band at the corner pub. The fans loved it, the band members loved it, and I think I even saw Van himself smile a bit.
Candy Dearborn - I can only wish to do something like that! how awesome that must have been, i can only imagine it all! someday…I have loved Van since day one…way way back when…he was just a kid himself! I LOVE THAT MAN…VAN THE MAN!!Aw - so jealous!! last time I saw him was Killyleigh Castle ’95!!
Ann Marie Denelle - Sounds blissful and very much my dream! I would love tossed Van and Bono play each others music acoustically. They both serve such higher purpose…keep me connected to my soul.Lynne - I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. M. Ten times… I have to say every show I’ve ever seen I have felt the great joy that you write about, such a gift, always a blessing, a moving experience!
Kevin Lynch - Great review, sorry I missed the show, saw our man in January at The Culloden Hotel – absolutely excellent. I have seen our friend dozens of times and never ever been disappointed, he’s class and a gentleman.Ruth Astbury - Yes I flew from Australia just to see Van Morrison. I sat on Table 3 next to another solo Van Morrison fan, named Pat from New York. Thank you for mentioning me in your review.