Van Morrison – review

Barbican, York

With Van Morrison's reputation for unpredictability or grumpiness, you fear the worst when a disembodied voice threatens to remove anyone in the audience using a mobile phone. However, moments later, the singer rampages into a cheery, jazzy version of 1967's classic Brown Eyed Girl, which seems to indicate that he's in the mood. So it proves.

In hat, shades and suit, an occasionally played saxophone hanging from his neck, the slimmed-down singer leads his excellent, brassier-than-usual band through their paces, every perfect solo accompanied by a comically nervous glance at their employer to see if they've kept their job.

They needn't worry. During a sublime Enlightenment, the warmth of the brass contrasts beautifully with Morrison's entrancing, clipped vocals. In a week where much has been written about great voices, on this form the 66-year old Northern Irishman is up there with anybody, a master at work. Singing at or ever-so-slightly away from the microphone, almost skat at times, he illustrates the line "out in the distance" with a whisper and explores every possibility in a word such as "imagin-aaaaaaaaaa-ayyy-shun".

The setlist spans his vast canon. There's airy pop (Precious Time, his joyful musing on mortality); songs rich in wonderment and imagery (The Mystery, In the Garden) and thrilling renditions of stone-cold classics – a raucous Gloria, a glorious Moondance, and a pinch-yourself astonishing version of Ballerina from Astral Weeks.

At 90 minutes, the gig could have been an hour longer, but there are grins on stage and unexpected humour. When the planned I'm Not Feeling It Any More collapses, the singer chuckles "Don't play it. Just fuckin' play in E!" and roars into another tune.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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