Washington DC final night

You had to know…in the sense that you don’t know a damn thing…that he’d deliver a full plate tonight, given the meager serving the night before. If he felt like he owed us one, he’d be right, in my eyes at least.

This was the flip side of the Boston show. Boston we got fluid motion from start to finish. He was on one train, and it never stopped until the end of On Hynford Street. Tonight’s show had that much bolder edge to it – the kind where the crescendos come into play a lot, the bass line driving it, making me sit forward and work the beat, get involved with the music. This was definitely a night to be in the good seats, but alas, not tonight for me – Donna and I, doing the austerity bit, are renting seats further up the side and the sound has a harder time making it up there. And that is my only whine of the evening.

Van came in to sit at the piano for Northern Muse. It’s starting to feel like a standard. I take full advantage of my seat location, which is directly across from him, same vantage as last night, to see his face while he’s playing. He performs the song like it’s a private moment for him and it sets the mood for the night. And again into Fair Play. I don’t know what I’d kick off my top ten songs to take to the desert island, but something’s going to have to go to make room for this one. The song just oozes gorgeous throughout, lilting, where his voice wraps around each note, gently caressing it, bringing it up and down the scale, hi-ho silver, caressing the lyrics around the notes, over field and stream. And then there are Jay’s skillful fingers moving up and down the fretboard as he and Van play it to the end. I’m sure I could be talking about any night he’s sung this, had I been there, but I have the audacity to think tonight’s version seemed even better than Boston. But, you know, I remember sitting there in Boston thinking it couldn’t possibly get any better than this. It’s just that kind of song.

The Mystery and Foreign Window follow, and while nice additions to the setlist, neither of these are ones Van takes off this mortal plane, they are just lovely to listen to, a reminder of what beautiful songs there throughout his back catalog that are being given an airing. Then the mood shifts for Streets of Arklow. There’s a real New Orleans feel to it tonight, like a companion piece to St. James Infirmary, with a no prima donna thrown in during his sax solo leading up to the don’t pull no punches ending. In the Garden is a bit of a blur – the holy guardian angels have made me forget, but it must have been good, even though the fullness of the sound was lost up along the sides, because that’s what my notes say.

The AW set continues to evolve, and we got to see some big changes in places, but some were more subtle, like the ending of Astral Weeks, where Caledonia is now a place for Jay to roam around the notes, as quiet as you please, the audience enraptured in silence. Beside You had a real passion to it; maybe it was Van building up to Slim Slow Slider, which overnight has become a workshop, with all sorts of interesting things going on.

Some prima donna-inspired lyrics…

lipstick on the mirror
fur coat on the floor
cases of brandy and whiskey
going in and out the door

And this time he goes down to Wespoint Grove to get a ticket at the station for the Rock Island Line in between visits to the German doctor for some railway carriage charm. The dynamics are in full play throughout the song, with solos serving as conduits to the next, higher level. Talk about turning a cow’s ear into a silk purse when Van brings a song to life. I hope it’s got a long shelf life.The Sweet Thing>Burning Ground powerhouse is next, the segue coming with Van on harp, then singing ever so quietly take my hand, with a call for long notes Daddy, take me down to the burning ground. Taking us along for the ride.If there’s going to be an ebb, there’s got to be a flow, and so a stroll through Cyprus Avenue and Young Lovers Do, and Ballerina for that matter, with the first and last of those three dabbing their toes in interesting bits toward the end but cut short, in order to get us to the next one, ending the AW set with yet another take on Madame George, so very quiet this time, leaving the final song of the night, On Hynford Street, to be the powerhouse closer. I can’t remember how he started it in Boston, but tonight he sings take me back before repeating the line in spoken verse, and the mesmerizing way of the words take over. And that’s where he left us.

Van walked off the stage and was out the door, leaving the band standing there unemployed in the spotlight for a full minute if not more, I’m sure wondering whether there was going to be a Gloria. The crowd, most certainly wanting for more, clapped for more; even the lights coming up didn’t deter them. All to no avail, as Van was gone.

They don’t come much better than this.

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