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Well worth the wait

Van Morrison - Live At Montreux 1980/1974 DVD
(Eagle Vision)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 8, 2006
Van Morrison

Review by Andy Argyrakis

The Live at Montreux DVD series has already released titles by countless legends, including Lou Reed, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Alice Cooper. Its latest offering revisits two classic Van Morrison concerts culled from the famous jazz festival of the same name, resulting in a deluxe double disc with extensive liner notes. Believe it or not, Morrison has never released an official concert DVD until now, previously only appearing in various VHS incarnations or television specials. While this conversion of sets from 1974 and 1980 may have been long overdue, the collection is well worth the wait (especially in a day in age when this particular performer is charging higher ticket prices and playing less material).

The 1980 performance is actually the best of the pair, if only for its expanded set list and treatment of Morrison's more notable cuts. Along with a sterling backing band laced in soul, R&B, jazz and pop, he nestles into muscular versions of "Wavelength" and "Kingdom Hall," demonstrating lead guitar licks and rich vocal presentation. "Moondance" is particularly magical, carrying on with ample band improv that thankfully never becomes overly extravagant, while "Wild Night" is a smoky rave up that puts to shame John Mellencamp's mediocre comeback cover. The concert concludes with "Angelou," a slow jazz jam that mounts with remarkable passion and beauty, simmering out the exceptional evening on a tender note.

Dipping back even further in time is the 1974 disc, a much shorter offering with only nine songs, but one that's still vital, showcasing an even younger, more spirited Morrison. The digital restoration and new remixes are especially evident on this piece of vintage footage, which also encompasses several of the singer/songwriter's earlier chestnuts, such as the high pitched powerhouse "Twilight Zone," the horn heavy "Heathrow Shuffle" and the husky handed "Naked In the Jungle." While more casual fans will miss "Brown Eyed Girl" and the recurring live romp "Gloria," there's still plenty to savor in this impressive package. It will also take faithful followers back to the days when Morrison was a little more spontaneous and lively as a showman (long before the days of diva-like behavior or uneven album output), cementing his place as a pioneering blue-eyed soul force.

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