“The quality of a rock and roll song is inversely proportional to the number of instruments on it (unless you’re Van Morrison)”
-- Jimmy Guterman & Owen O’Donnell
That quote reverberated through my head as St. Pauli Girl and I enjoyed Van Morrison and his crack band play it with feeling last night. The show started slow with Van complaining that he couldn’t hear the guitar, and the band breezed through quick renditions of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance.” It was as if the audience was packed into a 737 and the band was the flight attendants running through the safety talk, then Captain Van came on the intercom to announce, “Please be seated while I taxi this thing to the runway. We’ll be departing shortly.” During those moments, you look forward to the end of the flight to get away from the Sumo wrestler jammed in the middle seat next to you.
But then we took off. The band hit its stride, Van caught the groove and took the concert hall to another level. Throughout the show, all of the musicians were featured in several solo spots. Each time Van would nod towards the musician as if to say, “Show me what you got.” And he’d better bring it or Van would cut him off and nod towards another musician. He constantly checked the sound and hissed the band toward perfection (I’m pretty sure he beats them after the show).
At one point, he chastised a band member coming in late to a song, “Let’s go!” Unfortunately, the audience would later interpret that to mean he had a plane to catch since most people thought the show ended too early and certainly too abruptly. This wouldn’t have been a problem with a “Thank you and goodnight.” Instead, Van just walked off the stage as the band played a few minutes longer, then left just as abruptly. While the crowd waited uneasily for an encore, the stagehands packed up the gear.
The previous concert St. Pauli Girl and I attended was Willie Nelson about 3 or 4 years ago. I don’t say that to bring up a comparison, only to point out that we don’t get out much. But they were vastly different experiences not only for their differences in stage presence but also because of the crowd and recording restrictions. Willie can still bring it at his age and his band is every bit as good as Morrison’s.
I mostly remember the Willie Nelson show for the staggering number of falling-down-drunk middle-aged fans acting like teenagers at their first keg party. We were lucky enough to be seated next to a Fred Flintstone look-alike except he was fatter, had curly hair and didn’t wear a tie. He was totally hammered and speaking incoherently to everyone around him. (I expected him to morph into BamBam and just shout, “Bam! Bam! Bambam!”). I spent the whole show wondering if there were lawyers that specialized in clients who had been vomited on.
Willie doesn’t care if you take pictures during his show. The fans don’t care if they have to climb over, under, or through you to get close enough to snap those pictures. A woman sitting behind us made sure to call all of her friends during the show, shout into the phone where she was, then hold the phone up so her friends could hear the show.
Conversely, Van Morrison (like most artists) does not allow recording devices, cameras, or cell phones. A jackbooted ticket taker, pointing to the sign as we entered the concert hall, warned us we would be “ejected” if we were caught using any of those things. I asked if I needed to sign anything and would blood be okay? My hand instinctively covered the cell phone in my pocket as another ticket taker eyed me suspiciously. Should I hand my phone over, I worried? I don’t use the camera on my phone, I don’t even want a camera on my phone, and I didn’t intend to take pictures of Van Morrison with it, so I played it cool and said, “Nope, just got my hand in my pocket.” (When I got home later I discovered I had taken 20 pictures of the inside of my pocket.)
So the Van Morrison show had a well-behaved audience, no cameras flashing, nobody screaming into their phone, and best of all, no Fred Flintstones running up and down the aisle while the band played “On the Road Again.” In the end, I highly recommend both Willie Nelson and Van Morrison to any music lover. You’ll end up leaving both shows early: Van because, well, he just disappeared, and Willie because you’ll want to avoid the drunk drivers in the parking lot.