Van Morrison at the Wang Theatre, March 14, 2008
Van Morrison has joined the ranks of ridiculously expensive artists: tickets for last Friday’s Wang Theatre show — one of only four on his current US tour — topped out at $300, about twice last year’s cost of Springsteen, Dylan, or Neil Young. You could argue that he’s worth it, but only when he chooses to deliver — for that price you’d expect him to reach deep into his soul, or at least his catalogue.
This, however, was a low-heat night, one with a lot of pleasing moments — the man is still one of the great popular singers — but without those transcendent peaks that mark a prime Morrison evening. He was inscrutable as ever, his face nearly invisible behind fedora and shades, not saying a word between songs, in a show that began precisely at 7:30 and was over precisely 90 minutes later. And the lack of affect extended to the music: the 12-piece band included some familiar faces (Moondance-era guitarist John Platania is back), but it often seemed the tempos and segues were being rushed to get it all done on time, and Morrison seldom explored a song long enough to take it into the mystic.
The crowd was with him nonetheless, applauding the first notes of fan favorites “Vanlose Stairway” and “In the Afternoon” (but responding less to “Moondance,” the main set’s only full-fledged hit). Instead of digging up catalogue surprises, he devoted the second half to performing the forthcoming Keep It Simple in its entirety — a move he never made with his best albums. Keep It Simple isn’t a bad one, but the slow tempos and world-weary mood suit late-night contemplation rather than a full live airing. The jaunty “Soul” stood out, even if its lyrics are just a mini-lecture on the meaning of soul. On a better night, that’s something he wouldn’t need to explain.
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