The legendary troubadour, Van Morrison, came back to Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall for a night of song on Monday, though, typically, stories were lacking, as was any kind of interaction with an audience already primed for Morrison’s notoriously moody and aloof exterior.
What was also somewhat unsurprising was Van’s controversial views over Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns (which culminated in a much frowned upon collaboration with Eric Clapton), though the Irish singer-songwriting legend didn’t let the small matter of a pandemic get in the way of his productivity. Last week, he released his 43rd album, What’s It Going To Take?, and is back on the road to promote it – the place he loves most – since restrictions were lifted. At 76, there’s no slowing down on the live circuit for Van after six decades of performing.
On this, the first of two nights at Liverpool’s most prestigious venue, Morrison was backed by a seven-piece band, all of whom watched their leader like a hawk as they swung and jazzed and occasionally stomped through a jam-band style, often bluesy set, one after another without space. Morrison, very much band leader, pointed his musicians in for ad-lib solos and stood back in the shadows – his legendary trilby, shades and on this occasion, orange suit keeping him very much in the foreground regardless.
This was my fourth time sharing a room with Van-the-Man, and I was both heartened and excited to see him, for the first time ever, embrace his hits. A quirky version of Have I Told You Lately featured Van playing a rousing and melodic saxophone solo, a rumbling version of the classic r&b track Baby Please Don’t Go was met with hollers and howls, and stirring versions of Wild Night, Magic Time and Precious Time turned a lukewarm crowd into a standing party.
After an hour and fifteen minutes straight, Van thanked the band and wandered into the shadows, though Liverpool chanted as only Liverpool could for his return. These kind of artists only come round once a generation, and the appreciation for everything Van has given us over the near six decades of writing, recording and performing was very much evident. The lights came up as he kicked in to a very uncharacteristic and rare version of Brown Eyed Girl – the hit he for so long neglected in his live sets. The crowd went wild and started dancing in the isles, though Morrisonjust kept on doing his thing regardless.
Not one to speak to his admirers, Van finished with an epic version of Them’s 1964 smash hit Gloria in which the brilliant band took turns, after Morrison had exited left, to solo through the next ten minutes. I heard one woman, almost surprised on the way out, say: “he had much more energy this time – it was almost as if he enjoyed it.” I had to chuckle at that – I’m sure Van loves it, and that’s why he still does it – and long shall that remain.