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Concert Reviews:
Van Morrison Keeps It Simple At The Fox

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2008

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DETROIT -- Van Morrison doesn't make it easy to see him in concert.

Besides the fact he doesn't come around all that often -- although he's played Detroit two of the past three years after a 20-year gap -- the Irish rock icon's shows come with strictures fit for a Broadway production. Showtime at 7:30 sharp with latecomers "accommodated at specific intervals." The usual prohibitions against cell phones or cameras, although in this case you get the sense Morrison himself will storm off the stage and smack you upside the head if they're violated. No smoking, even in the usual designated outside areas, and no alcohol served; you have to sing along to "Gloria" completely sober.

All that puts the onus on Morrison to deliver something special, and he did just that on Wednesday night (July 9) at the Fox Theatre, with a playful and emotional performance that was so engaging the 90 minutes (Morrison's standard length, to the minute) seemed to breeze by.

Morrison is often a buyer-beware prospect, known for leaving the hits from his nearly 45-year recording career on the sidelines. On Tuesday, however, he came to please, kicking off with "Wild Night" and then rolling into "Tupelo Honey," which incorporated a bit of "Why Must I Always Explain?," and "Saint Dominic's Preview." A shimmering "Wavelength" and "Domino," that latter featuring Morrison on saxophone, also made appearances during the set.

There is a recent album, to promote, "Keep It Simple," and Morrison and his nine-member band offered up the title track, the energetic "That's Entertainment" -- during which multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jory "played" an intricate hand-clapping pattern -- and the rolling groove of "Behind the Ritual," all of which fit in nicely with his older material.

All of those would have been enough high points for any given show, but Morrison, singing in a brisk, lyric-swallowing cadence similar to Bob Dylan, had his eye on some proverbial higher ground. A rendition of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," showcasing backup singer Katie Kissoon, was as moving as it was surprising. A long meditation on "In the Afternoon," which allowed the band's soloists to pass the musical ball between them, referenced "Ancient Highway" and "Raincheck." Morrison vamped up a storm and even let loose with a curse during "The Burning Ground," hinting at some politically-based anger before grounding things with a sublime take on "And the Healing Has Begun."

And then there was "Gloria," which brought things to a close on a high note but also nodded to absent friends with a quick vocal lick from the late Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" Diddley, of course, was one of rock's master showmen, and on this night at the Fox Morrison carried that torch proudly.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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