Like many people in my age group, I’ve been a fan of Van Morrison’s music for more than 40-plus years now. Beyond the hits everyone knows (if you’ve ever been to a wedding, you know “Brown Eyed Girl”), I own many of his albums from throughout the decades and have loved most of his music, especially some of the deeper tracks.
Seeing him perform in person has long been on my bucket list, but two things kept me from seeing him in the past: the cost of his concerts (the same can be said for The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, etc.); and rumors of how his performances have been hit-and-miss.
Over the years I’ve heard many others who have seen him live swear it was the greatest thing ever, and others who said what a waste it was. Not sure if he’s still a drinker, but I remember some saying he would show up drunk, then abruptly walk off stage. Others complained about how he never engaged with the audience. Others said he was so cantankerous that it detracted from the show. He seemed very sober tonight.
So, I had trepidations about shelling out $200 + fees (for the cheapest seat!) to see him live. Having gone through some life-altering things over this past year, I decided my bucket list items are now or never – I need to take the bull by the horns and embrace life each day. No more procrastinating.
But I didn’t want to waste that kind of money, which is a significant amount to me. Way overpriced, in my view, to the point of being shameful. I debated it and even posted about that dilemma on Facebook (first-world problems, indeed). On the plus side, he was performing on my campus at SDSU, and had a great opening act, Taj Mahal.
In the end, I decided to forego seeing him at this price, because I devised an even crazier, bucket list item I wanted to accomplish in December, and thought this 3-hour concert would cover 10% of my wilder week-long dream.
But then I got a text message from a colleague. This person, who I will refer to as my fairy godmother, Sainte Emily (even though she’s young enough to be my daughter, but I now consider her my fairy godmother). Sainte Emily coordinates events on campus and has contacts at the venues there. She made a call to her contact, just asking, perchance, if there were any leftover seats that they were giving away. Sainte Emily wanted to know if I had purchased a ticket yet, and I said no, I decided against it. She said good, because her contact called her back and two tickets were waiting for her, that she was going to gift to me. I was flabbergasted, blown away, and so incredibly grateful that she was so thoughtful and kind to do such a thing – but that’s Emily for you.
Now I had two tickets in hand. Steve wasn’t up to going, so I contacted my friend Carol just hours before the concert. She didn’t hesitate for a second – “Ya,” she said. Most people I know, especially in our age group, are not so quick to respond to such a spontaneous, last-minute invite like that. But Carol is an artist and a musician (she sang “The Wedding Song” at my wedding to Steve, 40 years ago last month).
We met up for a quick bite then headed over to the Open Air Theatre.
The seats were fantastic! They weren’t the “cheap” $200 seats (WTF?), but more down in front, not front row, but a great view, just a perfect setting. What a huge blessing it was to have such amazing seats gifted to me by such a sweet young woman, and share it with my longtime friend, Carol. I have so much gratitude to both Emily and Carol.
Here’s my review of the concert:
First, the venue: as my friend Chipper asked, was it a wonderful night for a Moondance? Yes, indeed it was. The previous night was a huge thunderstorm and lightening over the area, but tonight was all clear, with cool, crisp air and a beautiful sunset. Besides the treacherous stairs at the Open Air Theatre, it has such a great vibe and a great place to enjoy San Diego evenings.
Second: the opening act, Taj Mahal. I knew of Taj Mahal, and have heard some of his songs, but confess to not ever owning any of his albums (that will change). So, my knowledge was only superficial. He was awesome! His music was very enjoyable, and he was very personable and interactive with the audience. He even commented on being woken up by our unusual thunderstorm the night before: “where am I? It can’t be San Diego?” His session just didn’t seem long enough. I promise to get deeper into his music after this concert.
Now for Van.
I have to say, overall, I am very happy I had this experience. It is a bucket list item checked off.
Was he perfect? Heck no, but who is, so I give him credit where credit is due. And overall, he deserved much credit.
I’ll start with the negatives, just to get them out of the way.
- The first song was basically a blatant commercial for his latest album, which has had mostly scathing reviews, primarily for the lyrics, which have been interpreted as anti-Semitic, misogynist, anti-immigrant, and a whiny privileged guy complaining about how his entitlement has been encroached. But then, even as a young man, he was always a whiny, complaining, unhappy person who blamed everyone else for his troubles. But to open the show singing a plug for his album was beneath him, IMO. Then the next couple of songs, from said album aired his complaints in the lyrics, but musically, they weren’t bad. They were enjoyable if you didn’t listen to the lyrics.
- The suit: it was actually a very nice suit, but the color was somewhere between coral salmon and pink grapefruit. He wore sunglasses at night, which seems creepy. I liked the hat, though. But I shouldn’t complain about the color: props to him for being sartorial.
- As someone who has followed him through the decades, I’ve known for a long time that he has taken a strong turn toward jazz, and he has done it well, so for the most part, that didn’t bother me as I was fully expecting that. All the songs he played had a jazz arrangement, and it was actually very good, but for those expecting traditional arrangements for the hits they knew, they may have been disappointed. My biggest disappointment in the jazz arrangement was “Enlightenment.” Just because I’m in a Zen mood and have been singing that song lately while stacking wood (“not chopping wood”). The only other song I would have preferred in the original arrangement would have been “Into the Mystic,” but it was still fantastic with the jazz undertones.
- Like many others have said, he does not engage with the audience. But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Given his reputation as a grumpy curmudgeon, just sticking to the music is probably a good thing, which leads me to the highlights.
The Great Things:
- His voice. He still has it. At 75, his voice is clear, strong, and amazing. He sang so smoothly. A gift, and a joy to behold. That, right there, made me so happy to see this bucket-list item of mine now, while he still has it going on.
- The sax: – he’s great at his saxophone. And also his harmonica.
- As said above, he did his job, and he did it well, very well, IMO. He’s there to sing, and even if he doesn’t engage with the audience at all, that was okay. He gave us the music, and that’s what we pay for. I do admit I enjoy performers (like Taj Mahal) who do engage, but Van is Van. The music speaks for itself, and he doesn’t need to be Mr. Personality, because I don’t think he ever could be. And that’s ok. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and as an introvert, I get that.
- “Into the Mystic” – again, a jazz arrangement, compared to the original, but it worked. God, this song reaches my soul and I’m still tingling thinking about it.
- His band: they were tight! Truly, they were all on the same page, and excelled in their respective roles. The female backup singer was AMAZING. I was going to single out a few others, but they were all so just plain wonderful. Every single one of them.
- The closing encore was a wonderful version of “Gloria”. Again, different from the original of what he did back when he was with Them (from 1965 – 56 years ago!), but it was fantastic. A great way to end the concert.
- Overall, I have to say that it was a gift to remember. A true gift (Thank you, Sainte Emily). And a thank you my friend Carol for the photos from her phone, below.