A Sense of Wonder

Van Morrision

Rosemont Theatre - Rosemont, IL

January 9, 2001

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2001, Volume 8, #3

Written by John Metzger

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Over the past few years, the term "legend" has been diluted to the point where it is nearly meaningless. The bulk of the blame lies with VH-1. This network's need to fill space has resulted in countless hours of mind-numbing documentaries that refer to just about everyone in this manner, regardless of their real musical accomplishments. Taken loosely, I suppose, VH-1 can use this term to define artists (and I use this word with great hesitation) and tell their stories. However, "legend" was once a term that referred to someone truly great. So, when I dub Van Morrison a legend, I certainly don't mean it in the VH-1 sense of the word.

Morrison is a legend. There's no question about that. He's a musical pioneer and visionary who burst out of the U.K. in the 1960s first with the group Them and then as a solo artist. Fusing R&B with rock, folk, blues, and jazz, Morrison has crafted a brilliant career, while refusing to bow to whatever the latest commercial trends happen to be. In recent years, he's delved even deeper into blues and jazz styles, often reworking many of his best-known songs into nearly unrecognizable, but no less potent, musical forays. Consequently, his tours as infrequent as they may be can be somewhat frustrating to those looking for the master to recreate his songs precisely as they were recorded. For his more adventurous fans, however, Morrision's concerts can be real treat.

Such was the case on January 9 when Morrison settled into Illinois' Rosemont Theatre for a two-night extravaganza with vocalist/pianist Linda Gail Lewis in tow. Lewis, who many might recognize as Jerry Lee's younger sister, played the perfect foil for Morrison, adding her country-tinged voice to Hank Williams' You Win Again and her boogie-woogie keyboards to a raucous medley that included Chuck Berry's Roll over Beethoven as well as her brother's Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' on and Shake, Rattle, and Roll.

Morrison and his band began the show at a gallop, delivering song after song with nary a break. Slower material was tackled at a genuinely rapid pace, while normally peppy material was performed at near breakneck speed. While many performers might have found themselves in a tailspin, Morrison accomplished this maneuver with perfect precision, and when he did finally scale back the velocity for the final third of the concert, it had a dramatic effect on the material.

Throughout his two-hour set, Morrison sprinkled a number of his better-known songs, including a revved up rendition of Domino, a lively reading of Brown-Eyed Girl, a full-bore jazz translation of Moondance, and a vivacious romp through Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile). Yet, as good as these songs were, it was the lesser-known material that truly stood above the rest. Centerpiece churned through a steamy New Orleans' blues vamp; Fire in the Belly melded jazz with a '70s R&B groove to become a transcendent incantation; Precious Time borrowed the feel-good ambience of a Sam Cooke tune; and Philospher's Stone blossomed into a majestic and heartfelt anthem.

On each song, Morrison's voice skittered across liquid phrasing and became weightlessly airborne amidst its musical environment, and his occasional mouth harp accompaniment accented his songs with volatile flurries of fervent punctuation. Meanwhile, the band layered saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, and flute with guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards to create a fiery synthesis of jazz, blues, gospel, folk, and rock. Taken together, Morrison and his entourage delivered a potent cocktail of mighty music that did nothing less than leave the audience with an awe-inspiring sense of wonder. While it may have been only January 9, Morrison very well may have performed the concert of the year for this one will certainly be difficult to top.

The Lonnie Brooks Band opened the show with an invigorating set of intense electric blues. Unlike many artists who tackle the genre with detached precision, Brooks and his ensemble alternated between torrential hellfire and soulful passion, capturing the absolute power of what the blues can be.

You Win Again is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 2001 The Music Box