From The Archive - VAN THE MAN AT THE North Sea Jazz HYPERMARKET July 2012
A review written for Van’s Website
North Sea Jazz Festival Rotterdam, July 2017
With 150 performances taking place on 13 different stages over its 3 day duration The North Sea Jazz festival is something a musical hypermarket. Tables groaning with fresh fruit and vegetables on the catering aisles between the various venues, all housed in one dockside complex, add to the impression.
Van Morrison and the band strike into their opening number bang on 7pm at the The Nile, a standing room only barn of a venue which hardly seems conducive to the intimacy and directness that would yield a vintage performance.
Even so Brown Eyed Girl in a decidedly jazzy register set the tone for a performance thoughtfully tailored to its setting. Scat singing lines were emphasised, dovetailing neatly into a band workout featuring muted trumpet and exultant trombone flowering out of simmering organ lines.
An easy to luxuriant tempo and mood was summoned with Only A Dream and Days Like These. Doubling on sax between sending commanding vocal arcs across the cavernous venue Morrison banished any thoughts he was going to take a laid back route.
Confirmation of that came with Don’t Start Crying Now. Cranked up by a whammy bar guitar and spine shivering brass the song was extended to include the singer’s impassioned meditation on the attraction of custard pie ( a delicacy possibly akin to jelly roll, though somewhat sweeter).
A smouldering How Can A Poor Boy showed this easily overlooked tune has become a brooding live highlight, its brooding vocal ripe with thwarted desire and velvety tremors. That atmosphere fitted keenly with the glowering take on Little Willie John’ classic Fever which followed.
The unfailingly punchy brassline of Real Real Gone eased off to allow an appropriate honouring of LWJ’s soul singing contemporary Sam Cooke via lines from that timeless Valentine You Send Me, memorably preserved to history on Van’s 1973 double live classic Too Late To Stop Now.
A rare outing for the standard Foggy Day In London Town, a mighty Ebb Tide (NB please check with setlist - I THINK this is what it was) and a masterfully arranged and extended Haunts Of Ancient Peace (Van on keyboards) insured that inside the music megamart soul and substance could still be found.
But, just as reservations about the venue’s suitability faded, quite the most bizarre period I’ve ever witnessed at a Van - or any other performer’s gig - ensued.
With Morrison and the musicians playing on through Enlightenment, the onstage monitors evidently clearly playing back their sound, the rest of the hall was left in baffled silence.
Just as the inevitable wolf whistles and slow hand claps started with mixing desk operatives on the brink of gasket blowing, the sound came back, in time for the (spookily appropriate), final “Enlightenment , don’t know what it is...” line to .
Back on the home strait, remarking that , with the inexplicable roaring (probably myself growling at the sound desk), handclaps and whistles, for a minute he thought he was at a rugby match, Morrison’s longstanding showman instincts came keenly into play.
Simultaneously debunking his craft “it's time for some the-atre, darling, we do loove our theatre” he exalted in it with a version of Not Feeling It Anymore which held the crowd spellbound.
A reworked It's All The Game proved once again to be a reliable highlight while Ballerina was given a notably fierce and spiky delivery, the changed tenor of the piece underlined by the ferociously sounded “here comes the fuzz” warning.
While the Jazz setting of the event had been honoured Gloria underlined the drawback of categorising music too strictly.
In the light of the upsets that had preceded tonight the reason why this bluesy rocker invariably encores Van’s set was clear. Few tunes have such ability to incite widespread communal joy.
Gloria - it rhymes with euphoria and we can all do with (more than) a little of that now and again. Especially again. Anyone for custard pie?