Saturday, 9 January 2016

Van in Canada

Jeremy Brendan's My Life as a Reptile blog has an interesting review of a Van concert from 2007.  One of the readers argues against Brendan's review even though both were at the same concert.  Shows how subjective life is.  Check out the full review by clicking above.  

Van @ LeBreton Flats, Ottawa  -  July 5, 2007

I awoke Wednesday morning to the sight of my parents looming over my bed. "Get up," my father said curtly. "We're going to see Van Morrison." They got into my Parc Avenue apartment without assistance thanks to my roommates who are allergic to locking doors. After a few brief stops and a lunch at Pizza Donini, we were en route to what promised to be a great rock show.

After unloading their luggage at the Quality Inn on Rideau Street, we took a bus towards LeBreton Flats, a large field near the water where the Ottawa Blues Festival is being held this year.

On the way, I struck up a conversation with a long-haired street person who was also going to the concert. He had been entertaining the entire bus with his personal take on Brown Eyed Girl only minutes earlier. I asked him if he was looking forward to the show. "I don't have the fifty bucks," he said. "But I'm going to be up on the hill sitting and listening. If it rains, I'll be standing." I advised him to find a hole in the fence to gate-crash. "Oh no," he said quickly. "I'm not that kind of guy."

Before long, we were at the site and joined one of two enormous lines of people waiting to be admitted to the show. By my rough count, at least 30 thousand people showed up to stand in circles and talk about office politics (more on this later) while drinking the reasonably priced Molson Canadian ($5.50 per cup).

A Prozac-blunted middle-aged blonde P.R. flack took the stage and began cooing at the crowd. "We've been waiting for him for over 42 years...Van MORRISON!" Of course, he didn't appear for several more minutes since he apparently begins all his shows at the scheduled time of 7:30 PM, not a minute sooner nor later.

As he & his band of seasoned professionals took the stage, the crowd cheered weakly and then resumed chatting. This irritated my parents, veteran hippy rock-and-roll troopers who had been at Isle of Wight to see Jimi Hendrix and up front in NYC to catch the Doors, and my usually pacifist father began to grumble. "I hope these people don't talk during the show."

On the two video screens, you could see him in his white fedora, eyes glued shut, sipping from a water bottle between songs. He only said 6 words during the whole set as far as I can tell--and that was at the end of the show, i.e. "Let's hear it for the band"--and I was disappointed that I had caught an artist of his calibre on autopilot.

As the set dragged on, my parents began to whisper that the crowd was ruining the show. Although we were by no means far back, it was plain to see that many of the people were treating the show as if it were a social schmooze-fest. Some weren't even facing the stage, preferring to talk to Judy from Accounting about her new 2008 Highlander while sipping from a $6 glass of red wine. "I want to hit the guys behind us," said my father, teeth clenched. My mom silenced him and tried to dance in this sea of talking squares.

When Van began singing Into the Mystic, my current favourite from his back catalogue, my hopes bloomed for a spell. "Instead, he limped through the song with all the ferocity of a pampered house cat, phoning it in like some post-alcoholic lounge singer. By this point, I realised that half of the problem was the rinky-dink sound system.

One bright point was the tight performance of Van's backing band. Though I had to strain to hear them at all, they were definitely on time and faithful to his Celtic Soul and rhythm & blues stylings.

I am sure the folks at the front of the stage, i.e. within spitting distance of Van's Gucci loafers, got to hear it but for the rest of us, all 29 thousand of us, this concert was a bust. Even mildly upbeat performances of Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria didn't silence the chattering fools, and as Van exited stage right at 9 PM with no encores, my father opined bitterly, "I'm never coming back to the Ottawa Blues Festival. It's lost its intimacy."

If you will do me the pleasure, allow me to use the rest of this screed to write an open blog post to Van Morrison.
Dearest Van,

Hello, Mystical Sailor. Your album Moondance from 1971 has become a core part of my musical history, bringing back Proustian levels of childhood memories with each listen. My parents practically raised me on your works. Up until today, I would consider myself a big fan of Van.

You should consider your options. If you are going to piss all over your legacy by putting on heartless, soulless soul performances at Big Ticket Festivals, then retire. Leave the stage to people who actually give a damn.

Yes, Van, I'm aware that you've been in the music business for decades. Why should you listen to me? What do I know? I'm an unwashed, mostly broke troubadour with greasy hair and some drug problems. I don't even know my scales on guitar. I get bad gas on regular occasion. Still, I know that I want my music served hot, steaming hot, not bland and tasteless like a bag full of rice cakes.

Point is, some people play music because they love it. You used to. What happened to that moony, pukey, bittersweet poet, that powerful little mountain of a man? Is your reservoir depleted? Are you punching a clock? I sincerely hope that this was just a fluke and not representative of all of your shows these days.

Anonymous Reader Comment   -   Wow....did you ever experience something different from what I did! We were against the middle barrier about halfway between the stage and the sound tent, and I have to tell you, NO one was talking--if they weren't quiet, they were singing! No one was standing---they were all dancing! And we heard every note, every word he sang. Just to discuss, tho---no it wasn't intimate, not at the MBNA stage, but Van Morrison tours so rarely, and it HAS been over 40 years....ya gotta figure he'd be popular! To go to one concert, ignore the other stages, and say it's not intimate--well headliner concerts at Bluesfest never were. 

The band was awesome. Well, it's an all-star band so go figger. But check your Van history: he performs EXACTLY as long as he is signed for (notice he didn't short change us, either), he never speaks to the audience, he rarely opens his eyes. None of what he did was a surprise. And let's face it...$50 was cheap these days, don't you think? Besides that he NEVER does many hits, and certainly did a few songs people who've seen multiple Van shows have never heard live. In fact, if you like Greatest Hits concerts, Ottawa was given a gift by Van Morrison. Man, I wish you'd been with us. 

A Third Opinion

Professional journalist Peter Simpson also recorded his thoughts of the concert. The full version can be seen at the Ottawa Citizen website.  

There’s little doubt that Wednesday was, overall, a big opening night for Bluesfest at its new (old) site. A reported 35,000 people squeezed into the new festival plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum on Lebreton Flats. It was a beautiful night. The rain held off, and it was neither too hold or too cold. On stage was the unparallelled voice of Van Morrison, in the capital for the first time since the 1960s.

We had to go quite a ways through the crowd towards the back to find a place where we could see the stage and have at least a bare minimum of elbow room. Problem was, we were “seeing” the stage from so far away that watching it was pointless. We couldn’t even ascertain how many musicians were on stage, as they were simply too far away. Without question, it was the farthest I’ve ever been from a Bluesfest stage and still been well within the crowd. We watched the numerous giant video screens, and tried not to notice the lag between the video and the sound.

The sound was the big problem. I overheard at least a dozen conversations between people wishing the volume was louder. One woman in a brown hat gamely tried to start a chant, “Turn up the music. Turn up the music,” but her cry was lost in the cocktail chatter that competed with the music from the stage and at times threatened to drown it out.

Regardless, people seemed to be in a festive mood, which may have been helped by the excitement of a big opening night at a new location, and by the unexpectedly co-operative weather. But there is no doubt that a lot of people in the back third of that huge crowd were disappointed by the low volume. At times Van the Man seemed little more than background music.

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