Thursday, 2 March 2017

SXSW: Drinking Songs From Van Morrison (2008)

Jon Pareles’ brief review of Van’s appearance at the SXSW Festival nine years ago is another interesting review of the man’s in-concert skills.  The article gives the man the respect he deserves. No one has consistently delivered like Van in over 50 years in the business.  Even without  the $5 million dollar light show, the smoke machine, the pre-recorded backing tape support or the 50 back up dancers, the man still has it. 

SXSW: Drinking Songs From Van Morrison

Van Morrison, perpetual outsider, was right at home in Texas, where honky-tonk mingles with blues, R&B and country the way he does. In his club show at La Zona Rosa he looked as grumpy as he usually does, but he plunged into his music. Like Bob Dylan, Mr. Morrison tours steadily and changes from night to night; sometimes he’s inspired, sometimes he’s not. But maybe he had something to prove at South By Southwest, playing for an audience that mixed fans and the curious.

The Love Doctor
He wasn’t looking back. A recent album Keep It Simple (2008) has songs full of philosophy, regrets, complaints and confessions, and those were the songs he played: no safe oldies. The new songs keep his usual mixture of soul and country, with a little more electric blues guitar than he has been allowing lately. That added bite was redoubled in his voice: he attacked each line, jumping ahead, repeating words in a rush of syllables, scat-singing, even yodeling. He gets more expression from his timing than his tone, and he never just cruised; he pounced on every phrase, sly and wayward, playful and demanding.

As on the album, the finale, Behind the Ritual, was a drinking song from a man who doesn’t want to be a drunk, who used to be “talking all out of my mind,” any more. But the song longs for the old intoxication; he misses “drinking that sweet wine,” and the song had a gospelly buildup as he sang about getting “so high in the days gone by.” A drinking song, perfect for a Texas honky-tonk.


James Richards   -   Ol Van’s still got the juice. Been a lot of talk lately of over the hill songwriters who’ve lost the muse. However, Mr. Morrison remains a barn burner when he wants to be.

Roger Cohn   -   There is no better concert experience in the world than seeing/hearing Van the Man when he’s on.

Wayne M. Cohen   -   Ahhh…Van is simply the best. I had the pleasure of seeing him at the Masonic in San Francisco and he and his group just burned the place down.  His ability to gather together a group of talented musicians is–IMO–unmatched. I recently noticed a CD he did of country and western classics and thought NO Way he can pull that off–but as I listened to it I would have bet money that he grew up on the stage at the Grand ole Opery.  His range is just stunning.

Harvey DuMarce   -   I’m glad to hear Van Morrison is still rolling along like a fine old car. I love that guy’s music. Don’t care if he’s grumpy. I love grumpy. I began listening to him at Berkeley in the 1970s and my listening hasn’t stopped. Keep on rolling. Keep on with the great music. You make life so much more interesting.

Jim Feeley   -   Van Morrison has a direct telephone link to God. He is quite simply magic.

William   -   He is just the Top. Saw him at the Heinken Music Hall in Amsterdam in November and at N.O. JazzFest a year ago. He remains, IMHO, without peer, so eclectic, so powerful, so talented, such perfect pitch. My generation has lived by his songs. But it is a special pleasure now to see my kids delight in his oeuvre as well. What a special treat he has given us all over all these years.

John S   -   I saw his Tuesday show at the Austin Music Hall. He was definitely ‘on.  The chatter about Van’s idiosyncrasies had lowered my expectations but I can say the show turned out to be the kind you dream of – each new song that came one after another arranged and performed with such skill that it grabbed you like one of your old faves. The only downer was the grumbling in the exiting queues – only two of Van’s standards were played. I guess most crowds who pony up big bucks (I paid 100 to stand) to see their heroes want a ‘Best of’ show. They framed it as commercialism – just trying to push the new CD.  What a shame they didn’t see it as I did – a master at work.

jimmyc   -   Can’t believe what I have just read. Really, listen to his albums…every song is sung exactly the same…same notes, same order, ever since Moondance. Plus you have to pay $235.00 for a good seat. Sorry, but I can’t go with the herd on this one.

Michael   -   Morrison’s powerful music holds up year after year but it should be noted that central to his talent is his ability to put a good band together. Astral Weeks is just an okay folk album without Richard Davis on bass. Re-listen to it and you will know what I mean.

Smokin Daddy Cool Love   -   Hey I know he great! but… as a working stiff I can’t afford his shows $125.00 or $265.00??

Ryan Albright   -   After writing songs like T.B. Sheets and Madame George, Van has nothing to prove about his greatness.

RM   -   “the same notes since Moondance?” There are only twelve, and he mixes them up better than anyone in the business. Funny how some people mistake evolution for stagnation because he isn’t rehashing Domino at every gig. You’ve got a point with the ticket prices, but you’ve obviously not given The Man a decent listening in a long time .. or seen him live. I’ve been listening for the last twenty years, including five live gigs in the last year alone, and you couldn’t be more off the mark.

jimmyc   -   Hey RM, I realize that there are only 12, but come on, Van has maybe four different attacks on those 12 and he has many CDs. that does not bode well for invention. Compare his ability with those 12 to say, Declan McManus and case closed. I have seen Van several times since the mid 70’s. Don't get me totally wrong, Van has written quite a few songs that I still love to play with my band in tribute. 

Nancy Cox   -   I introduced my son 19 to Van Morrison songs he would always sneak my CDs then I would hear him pulling into the yard playing Van Morrison of course then I knew he was the one that had it and I didn’t care. There was a song that he and I would always listen to Into The Mystic. I would grab his hand while riding in the car and tell him he was the most important thing in the world to me. As I ride in the car now I’ll play Into The Mystic and look over thinking of him wishing he were still here waiting for him to start singing. My son passed away at the age of 21 on January 7th, 2008. He still listened to Into The Mystic I will miss him dearly but I still have Into The Mystic and remember the times we rode down the road together sang and held hands. 

jimmyc   -   Van’s always been about repetition that transcends into something else, and this shouldn’t be confused with not having a “fresh attack.” His live performances sneak up on you if you’re paying attention and not just waiting for the opening licks of Brown Eyed Girl. And he’s the consummate example of a current working, travelling musician who is all about the music. I’d take McManus in a cafe with an acoustic, perhaps, and he’s an undeniably talented songwriter, but Van is still the Man (and you won’t catch him doing a guest spot on Frasier.)

Andre Labbee   -   Just finished listening to Astral Weeks.  What a joy,great band. I have listening from the beginning, I never tire, have every of his CDs, some are better than others, but you can find something to enjoy in the lesser ones.  He my man.

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