Van Morrison fanatics—Vanatics?—nearly lost it when the Belfast Cowboy took the Shrine Auditorium stage on January 15. Many were still shuffling around the aisles or heading to get more drinks when Morrison strolled out sans opening act. He began by wailing on a saxophone with practiced precision, and after several minutes of jamming with his joyfully effervescent band, he began to sing. His trademark voice has remained relatively unchanged from his Moondance days; there’s none of the weathered gravel that Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen now sport.
Female baby boomers could not contain themselves—each elevated note from Van garnered a “woo” or an “ow!” from somewhere in the effusive crowd. Women screamed in tearful passion, some juxtaposed by flaccid husbands who couldn’t help but notice their wives’ admiration. Morrison’s lively rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl” was like a nostalgic sing-a-long—so much so that it was hard to hear a word Van said. When the first chords of “Moondance” floated out over the crowd, the dark theater lit up like a birthday cake, illuminated by outstretched cell phones trying to capture the surreal moment. The concert was what one might expect from an aging iconoclast—a mix of new and old favorites, an outstanding cover of “Old Black Magic,” and several carrots like “Wild Night,” which had everyone on their feet.
“Van the Man” is famously moody—he’s been called “cantankerous”, a “curmudgeon” and “unfriendly”—but Friday’s crowd met a warm Van who enjoyed improvising on the sax, scatting, entertaining with impressions, and extemporizing spoken word poetry. (Fun fact: he wrote poetry as an adolescent and even has his own poetry book consisting of selections of his best lyrics.)
As Morrison sashayed off stage late Friday night, the crowd sprung to their feet in unison, giving him a hard-earned standing O. He doubled back and delivered the kicker: “Into the Mystic.” The rendition was hypnotic, like a lullaby for his faithful fans.
Van Morrison performs at The Shrine on Saturday, January 16. Tickets available here.