Van Morrison: Concert Rules

Rule No. 1: Be on Time. Whether you're paying $10 for that kicking local ska band or $200 for Aerosmith at the Hollywood Bowl, if you're not there, the show goes on without you.

Van Morrison

The Grand

San Francisco,CA

December 29, 2006

Rule No. 2: Attend the Concert with Companions who are Fans.
Don't drag your girlfriend to hear Nickleback if she has the good taste not to like emo. You'll both be better off. You'll enjoy the show more and she will keep her sanity and ears intact.

I can't hold my compatriots responsible for our 'late' arrival at the Van Morrison show in San Francisco - even though we stopped for a last minute Mexican fiesta at a dank taqueria on Polk St. before the show.We arrived at The Grand at exactly 6:45, apparently the new midnight hour for Van, and he was already in the middle of "Back on Top." It seems practically incomprehensible to start a show at such an odd hour, on a Friday, but to start early is even more baffling and frustrating for concert-goers who love the rush of excitement when the lights first dim.

Fortunately for me, Rule No. 2 was still in play and having already quaffed a Pilsner or two and stolen a bite of a chicken quesadilla, my companions and I were ready to roll and Van was in fine form. VanMorrison is notoriously fickle in his live performances. Sometimes he dances an Irish jig and growls and scats on stage, just having a grand time while other times he phones it in on a mobile with a bad connection. At The Grand on Friday, Van was in full-attendance. His voice was expressive and strong and he seemed to be enjoying himself. He also has the very good sense to surround himself with consummate musicians and the sound was first class. The way a band should sound. Loud, but not overbearing, a great mix with every musician clearly audible, and lots of bouncy, funky organ solos. Fine backing singers, nice horn work, everyone working together. Not a blemish or weakness to be found.

Rule No. 3 Location, Location, Location. An inspiring venue only adds to a great show.

Of course, a great venue doesn't make a concert great and a crappy venue doesn't make a concert bad. But a great venue can make a great concert into a brilliant concert. The Grand is the old Avalon Ballroom, scene of many historic shows, where the likes of Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and the Doors performed back when rock and roll was still rebellious and revolutionary. Van Morrison has also played here before. And it is a much underused venue that has all the grace and charm of an old ballroom with a large open space, plenty of room for getting down and groovy. A fine space that makes you happy just to be there, a good start for any concert.

Rule No. 4. Avoid Artists that thrive in the Studio. They will invariably suck live.

Of course, the converse of this rule is certainly not true. But when Van is in fine form as he was at The Grand, he smokes his often tepid and flat studio recordings. His music comes to life on stage, more so than many artists. On Friday, Van largely avoided his classics and relied heavily on his new CD, Pay the Devil, and its country-flavored tracks. Van doing country sounds like an oxymoron, but it is not Dixie Chicks pabulum- Van does country with a little soul. Speaking of soul, one highlight of the night was Van's tribute to the late, great Godfather of Soul, James Brown (which also netted me $100). But the price of admission was found in a tremendous version of "St. James Infirmary Blues," a classic American folksong. Also, a lovely "I Can't Stop Loving You" was heartfelt and blissful. Of course, Van closed with a rousing "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Gloria" – two of the most overplayed songs in rock history but Van gave them new life and they were great fun.

When a concert starts before 7 pm, unless the concert is by Bruce Springsteen or the Grateful Dead, you can anticipate an early night and Van was off the stage before 9 pm which left me wanting much more with the night still so young. This was almost an acceptable hazard for attending a performance of an aging cultural icon.

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