Van Morrison doesn't make it to Detroit very often. He was here in 2006, and before then, I have no idea, but it was before I first came here in 1991. I missed that 2006 show, and determined to see Van Morrison perform sometime in my life, joined his mailing list so I'd get a notice on a pre-sale should he ever return. That night happened on Wednesday, and I didn't miss out this time. Though, with Morrison's price structure -- $300 for prime seats -- I found myself 3/4 of the way back on the floor, where it was somewhat more affordable.
Two days before the show, I received a reminder email, including this notice: "There is no late seating for this performance. The concert is scheduled to start at 7:30pm sharp. Seating for late arriving guests will only be accommodated at specific intervals during the performance." Just like at the symphony, I guess. I didn't know quite whether that notice would be accurate, but I wasn't about to chance it. We got to the venue with enough time to grab a beer (but not dinner), only to discover the notice that there would be no alcohol served this evening at the performer's request. We were in our seats with 10 minutes to spare. By 7:30, the Fox Theater was nearly full.
Morrison's 10 piece band went on at 7:31, launching straight in to Wild Night The sound was crystal clear, and quite a bit below earsplitting volume. There was nothing at all wild about it, but it was nice enough to hear. Where I thought Van and the band really caught fire was during the presentation of material from the new album, Keep It Simple. Though there were only 3 selections played, Keep It Simple, That's Entrainment and Behind The Ritual all seemed more passionate live than on disc; in particular "That's Entrainment," with some intricate clapping routines from the background vocalists.
The setlist was short on "greatest hits," really only 3 included. Also included was his version of "Comfortably Numb," which went over well. Van played harp on a few selections, most notably a rave-up of Gloria (which included a snippet of "Who Do You Love", perhaps in tribute to Bo Diddley) to close the night; he also played saxophone -- competently if not inspired -- on a few songs. He didn't have a horn section, though one of his keyboard players doubled on trumpet; I thought this hurt Domino a bit, with the keyboard player having to jump from piano to trumpet and back throughout the song, and the horn parts being just Van on sax and the keyboard player on trumpet. The audience ate it up, though.
Not much speaking by Van, not even to introduce the band. He mentioned that "Comfortably Numb" had been on The Sopranos, and introduced Help Me by saying he was going to do Sonny Boy WIlliamson Chicago Blues song, and he had a few jokes about cowboys and a bunch of name checks of blues heroes, but not a whole lot else. The audience was fine and attentive; personally I just wish I knew his catalogue a bit better. He left on a high note with And The Healing Has Begun, and came back for just the one encore.
After exactly 91 minutes, it was over, and we spilled back on to Woodward Avenue with the sky still light and the ballgame across the street still in the 7th inning. So we drove over to Mexican Town to get our dinner. Driving down Trumbull, we passed by the old Tiger Stadium; demolition work had begun earlier in the day.
The setlist (picked up from another site):
Tupelo Honey/Why Must I Always Explain?
St. Dominick's Preview
Keep It Simple
Behind the Ritual
In the Afternoon/Ancient Highway/Raincheck
The Burning Ground
And the Healing Has Begun
Sarah Jory, steel guitar
John Platania, guitar
Paul Moore, bass
Paul Moran, keyboards + trumpet
Tony Fitzgibbon, fiddle
Bobby Ruggiero, percussions
Neil Wilkinson, drums
Katie Kissoon & Vanessa Haynes, background vocals