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Van under-stays his welcome

Van Morrison
Rosemont Theatre
Rosemont, IL
July 8, 2008
Van Morrison Van Morrison

Review by John Halverson
File photos by Phil Bonyata

Virtuoso, musical savant, riff meister - clock-watcher. There's no one quite like Van Morrison when it comes to talent or... early exits. It was all on display at the Rosemont Theatre in Chicago Tuesday night. "Wild Nights," "Love in the Afternoon," acoustics from 1968's Astral Weeks, a song from the "Sopranos," several cuts from his new album. All done with a wild painter's brush - a splash of red-hot vocals here, a tinge of black magic orchestration there.

But there was a cloud in that silver lining: Van was too good to give so little of his time. After an hour and 15 minutes of performing musical voodoo, he crooned his way off the stage to return for only one brief encore. "At least we didn't buy the $700 seats," someone quipped. Maybe a gig in Detroit the night after meant an early night in Chicago, but a quick check of the web shows he's done this before on his U.S. tour. If we can't forget at least we can forgive. It was too short but so damn sweet.

Van is so skilled it makes you feel that you've entered a college class in musicology and that just about anyone else you've listened to is in pre-school. No other musician can summon so much out of a single song. Some may switch genres back and forth in a set. A country song here. A rock song there. Something acoustic next. But Van switches within songs. Five notes will have a country tinge, then there'll be a jazz riff from his fiddle player, Van will grab a mandolin or sax and go somewhere you wouldn't think the song could take us. He'll turn to the keyboard player and expect him to navigate the latest turn. More than once he broke from one song to the next and laughed because his backup singers didn't read his mind. In some ways his songbook is almost too big, after 50 years of performing and almost as many albums, there's a lot to choose from. Some of his more obscure selections seemed to satisfy him more than the audience.

Still, despite his early leave and all-over-the place song selection, there was no lack of giving. While he's never been a showman, Van pumped his arm like a rocking Elmer Bernstein to keep his orchestra in step, he kept some poor stagehand running back and forth feeding him new instruments and you never doubted he was giving his all as a singer. He played four instruments not including his voice which is an orchestra in itself - growls, titters, humming. If it can be made with a voice Van can make it. And all done with a confident spontaneity befitting a sage of his profession. It was as close as you'll get to a musical circus act and a far cry from Summerfest performances from other musicians who blared songs that even when they were wonderful seemed an awful lot like the one before. It was different, too, from Summerfest where the beer flowed and people danced on their seats. For some reason alcohol wasn't served at the Rosemont for Van's performance and we all sat attentively. But the comparatively restrained environment and decorum had as much to do with a desire to actually listen to the music.

Dancing is one form of expression.
Listening is akin to reverence.
Which is why when Van finished, we were praying for more.

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Magic Time - CD review - June 2007
"Live At Montreux 1980/1974" - DVD review - Nov. 2006
Pay the Devil - CD review - May 2006
Back On Top - CD review - Aug. 2001
Concert review - Rosemont, IL - June 2001
Guniess Fleadh - Festival review - Cicero, IL - June 1999

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