July 08, 2008

Rocking your gypsy soul

The Man

I don’t go to many non-pipe-music performances any more, but when Van Morrison is in town, as he was last night, he’s a must-see, no matter what the price. He played at Massey Hall on the same stage that SFU and the 78th Frasers have occupied. We, along with about half of the other 2600 fans, didn’t see or take seriously the ticket stating the start-time as 7:00 pm sharp. He and his nine-piece band started exactly at 7 as most were still filing in or waiting in line outside on Shuter Street.

It’s impressive to see such musicianship. No pre-recorded stuff to flesh out the sound; just 10 players doing everything there and then, often with great spontaneity. Even though Van the Man is legendary for wanting things just so, it seemed like the band wasn’t exactly sure what he would do next. Their eyes were glued to him all night and the band communicated with subtle body language that only they understood.

Van Morrison is Northern Ireland’s greatest contribution to world culture. Greater than Seamus Haney. Greater even than FMM. At 63 he’s as irascible as ever, but he continues to produce inspired music and a sound that a few have tried to imitate, but always comes across to me as what it is: an imitation. Despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to care what people think of him, he’s a true original.

It’s his devil-may-bother attitude that serves him so well. Pipe bands all too often play what they think people (mostly judges) want to hear, and it all too often sounds that way. Any piping people who see Van Morrison live will see terrific buttoned-down musicianship, but with honesty and spontaneity mixed in. It’s a good recipe to follow.


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