Van Morrison encapsulated his career in reverse on Tuesday, January 17, opening his show with “Too Late” from 2016’s Keep Me Singing and wrapping it with Them’s 1964 garage-rock anthem “Gloria.”
In between, Morrison and his versatile, four-man, one-woman band touched on every decade in between with tracks both deep (“Cleaning Windows”) and widely known and loved (“Jackie Wilson Says”). Toss in the occasional, straight-from-left field cover like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” and you wind up with 100 minutes of your life passing in an instant.
Taking the stage at 8 p.m. sharp, the band played at a breakneck pace, the drummer counting off songs before the sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall crowd had a chance to applaud its appreciation for the previous numbers. There was no talk beyond the periodic, and muttered, “thank you” and Morrison doffed his cap to his band only as he walked off to the strains of “Brown Eyed Girl” before quickly returning, harp blaring, for the set-ending “Gloria.”
There was no encore.
Instead, Morrison left the stage for the last time as his drummer shouted VAN MORRISON!!! repeatedly while the crowd stood and generally went bonkers. What followed was a lengthy vamp – presumably to give Morrison time to exit the building – that allowed the quintet to show off its considerable talents with a round-robin of vocal and instrumental solos.
Dressed all in black – with Morrison sporting a hat and shades – the band members shone on B3, piano and trumpet; vocals and percussion; drums and vocals; electric and acoustic bass; and electric and steel guitar, while the frontman chimed in on sax and blues harp.
Morrison had acoustic and electric guitars at the ready, but never played them.
Often described as cantankerous and prickly, Morrison seemed to be having fun despite his reticence. He punched the air to cue the band, appeared to call multiple setlist audibles and – when he threw his head back – put serious effort into singing the songs he’s sung so many times before.
At 72, Morrison’s retained about 97 percent of his voice and sounded amazingly similar to the man you’ve heard countless times via LP, 8 track, cassette, CD and streaming services. He varied the arrangements just enough to make the songs sound fresh, but not so much as to be all Bob Dylan about it and risk alienating casual fans.
“Have I Told You Lately” became an uptempo jazz number with dueling trumpet and sax. “In the Afternoon” was a soulful and effective male-female duet. “Moondance” was 100 percent hep – all finger snaps and head bobs. And “Here Comes the Night” benefitted from reggae flourishes that made the track from a half-century in the past sound positively contemporary.
The pairing of the agnostic “Precious Time” with the overtly religious “Whenever God Shines High Light” was a nifty lyrical juxtaposition that neatly showed off Morrison’s penchant for wide-ranging thoughts. Seeing and hearing these divergent themes back-to-back amid a 21-song musical package of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm-and-blues, funk, soul, country-and-western and swing music served to further cement Morrison’s legacy as one of the 20th – and 21st – century’s most enduring artists.