At the Wamu
My ticket says An Evening With Van Morrison. Good, I am in the right place at the right time. Well almost the right time. No sooner do Sean, Donna and I get inside the WaMu than the lights start to flicker. I guess we’re late. We get Donna going in the right direction, Sean’s gone on ahead, and I’m pretty much sprinting through the foyer at this point, the lights still flickering. I like the part when I get to the usher, who says to me, “Down there, on the floor.” Compared with last night’s “Up the stairs and to your right,” it was music to my ears.
I’d come to the conclusion earlier today that the real reason I didn’t feel like I was part of the music last night in Waterbury had nothing to do with the quality of the show and everything to do with my hearing. Sitting upstairs in the balcony in Waterbury, I was feeling like the music didn’t fill the space. And basically, blaming the music for that. But when Donna turned in her seat as the lights went up on Gloria, and said wasn’t that the best show ever, it got me thinking. It’s not the music that’s the problem, it’s my hearing. I suffer from that mp3 disease – where the top and bottom ends drop off.
I don’t think sitting in the third row, directly in front of the speaker here at the WaMu is what the doctor would order, but all I could think at the time was, I’m not likely to have any trouble with the music filling up the space tonight – it’s going to come blasting out of that very large speaker right there and plow right into me. What’s a girl to do, but sit back and wait for the ride to begin.
I’m going to be a puddle by the end of this, I just know it.
We’ll worry about my hearing later.
I’ve got my buddy Sean sitting beside me, and both of us are waiting for Van to walk on and sit at the piano, which is all of about 15 feet in front of us; I could take piano lessons, I’m so close.
Turns out, all that flickering was for nothing. Or something that turned into nothing. We probably sat there for 15 minutes, when the lights went down and the band came out. Then came the announcer, Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Van Morrison!!!!! cheeeeeeer, but no Van. And still no Van, and the crowd stops cheering, the crowd gets a little uneasy, and finally he comes on, to a nice, warm welcome and takes us into Northern Muse.
I won’t stop to chat about each song, but this one deserves a special mention. The way he’s taken this song out during these eight months has been ear candy. Always a lovely song, it has grown as the band has grown and could take it on behind Van. In late September, Van was digging deep inside to get the words out, and they’d come out as this deep growl, and now that growl’s gone deeper down, like he’s digging a trough with it– Sean calls it the lion inside – deep, deep down in the heart of Down. Tonight, he leans to the left, like Ray Charles at the piano, and yells out, Turn me up! and the show is about to take off.
Brown Eyed Girl is good because I get to see Van play at the piano for one more song – this is the best view I’ve got of him all night, so I milk it for all it’s worth. And that takes us to Fair Play, which is the stunner in the set and has been since he first played it in Bristol. Tonight at the WaMu, I’ve got a bird’s eye view of Jay, the first time I’ve actually been on the left side of a venue since way back at the Hollywood Bowl. He was good then, and he’s good now. There’s this one part … after the round of solos that float around the room, those big swells of Terry and Michael’s cellos behind Tony, Ritchie on flute, Paul on piano, some soft, mellow jazz from David and Bobby, even Rick gets a turn on the bongos … where Van is singing quietly, taking a bit of a solo on his guitar and that leads into the most beautiful of Jay moments, getting Van to go Yea, right! Said with some enthusiasm, I might add. Big hand for the man for bringing this song out to test it live. It was a song worth singing, every night leading to new territory, and tonight it covered a fair bit of it.
And sure as shooting, The Mystery is next. Nothing new or startling there. But then we get It’s All in the Game. I’m all over myself pleased. It’s been a bit of a wait since the last time I heard him play it (sigh, I just don’t go to enough shows; it’s not like he hasn’t been playing it), but the wait is over, and I know I say this a lot, and I’m getting weary of myself too, but tonight he really pulls no punches and gives us one of the most spectacular Games I’ve witnessed. Long live the workshop. Paul’s fingers trip over the high notes on the piano, and it reminds me again just how great this band is … feel it in my soul, there’s a rainbow in my soul … building through the levels to the end, where Van lets loose. It lit me a smile about 10 miles wide.
I think I pay attention during Moondance, but if I did, I have no recollection of it. What I do remember is Philosopher’s Stone, where Van starts in on a lozenge and drinking hot tea. If he’s got a problem, you’d never know it – his voice is like silk in Little Village, playing on the strings let’s get it straight from the start, what you believe in your head and your heart, Jay’s guitar has all the pretty parts, and then so do the rest of the strings, and by the end of song, the whole band is playing this absolutely delightful piece of classical music. I don’t suppose something like that comes out of thin air, but they made it sound like it does, effortless, as if it’s in them. Big hand for the band. And Van; let’s not forget Van. And Ritchie – he had some pretty parts too.
And now for something completely different. Van’s sultry opening to Help Me is quite the thing. Very soft, very slow, very enticing, and David’s bass is driving it; then there’s this drum crack that takes it to the next level, with this huge violin solo that simply rocked. Way to go, Tony! And all of a sudden it turns into jazz, some very nice jazz. The Van blues. He tags on Early in the Morning, again with that softer, luring voice. Very nice. He gives us a little tease of Kansas City, a lot of jazz, and a foot-stomping harp blast to end the whole shebang. A great outing.
Have I Told You Lately? is a crowd pleaser – you can imagine the band making this all sorts of lovely for the audience, getting them ready for what comes next.
As Dan wrote so eloquently, “The final 20 minutes of the gig saw Van reaching for the stars, the ones that shine in his eyes and the ones that glitter in his memories.”
On Hyndford Street. What a thing of beauty. Paul’s organ starts it off, long notes, sweet notes from Jay, played with reverence. Then the music grows, and if it isn’t just the most calming sound. Repetitive, and each time it comes around, you drop another layer of the outside world. Van now sings all the spoken words, and boys and girls, this was the number one moment in the show – the soft plaintiveness, the poignancy, in his voice as it slides down the high notes. Where the studio version is a bit of beat, tonight it is a paean. Jay’s playing is sheer delight, and I dare say, Van, on the electric, gave an excellent run at it too. This one is definitely ready to take on the road.
Van keeps on the electric for And the Healing Has Begun and we get a pretty good rocking version of it. He closes it down in the backstreet, yelling, I’m BACK!! into the hand mike just before he starts his walk-off. Then he’s back on for Gloria and the crowd is up dancing. You can always tell how much the audience liked the show by how many people get up to dance for Gloria. I’ve seen nights where only a scattering get up; but not tonight – the whole place is up. I agree with them – this was a spectacular show.
It’s two weeks tonight, as I write this, that we were at the WaMu, and the words still echo in my head, all Van caress, can you feel the silence, on long summer nights, the voices whispered across the river, we kept on dreaming.