Even At 73, Van Morrison Makes Entertaining Seem Easy

Getty Image

Van Morrison has a voice like a pillar of incense. It’s firm and fragrant, full of promises of things to come, then gray and soft, flaky and gone, leaving traces of itself in the wake. Half the fun of watching him perform is hearing the immense, beautiful sound that comes out of his body wane down into nothing — the other half is how long the power of it lingers even after the sound fades. During a two-night stint at The Wiltern in Los Angeles — following a recent string of shows in Las Vegas, where he’s now returned for another few nights — the 73-year-old legend made nearly two hours of performing look easy. And for him, maybe it still is.

Though 2019 might come decades after the commercial peak of this Irish legend’s career, a packed crowd of fervent fans found almost any excuse to give him a standing ovation at the first of two Los Angeles shows on Tuesday night. And even if the age of the audience made chairs more suitable for the venue, which holds just under 2,000 patrons, the crowd was crackling throughout the set, swaying, shouting, and singing along to Van The Man, who of course, belted out the hits — and some deep cuts — without considering a stool or much rest. In classic pinstripes and a fedora, he was every inch the entertainer, and unlike contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, his voice hasn’t lost an ounce of the richness it had four or five decades ago.

Morrison might be a name that Baby Boomers grew up with, but millennials are beginning to discover his expansive discography as well, and I predict he will continue to become a cult favorite among the younger generations, too. Plenty of us heard him blasting from our parents’ records player during formative years, and his discography is so rich that looking well beyond hits like “Brown Eyed Girl” or the career-defining Them cut “Gloria” is not only possible, but supremely fruitful. At first, I listened to Van Morrison because my parents loved him, but within a couple years of hearing his music, I was eagerly going on deep dives of my own. From the stints in and around R&B and jazz, to the collections of Celtic folk and Irish hymns, Van imbued all of his work with a singular joyousness, a resounding passion that echoed through the happy, celebratory songs and the mournful tunes.

The recent reissue of one of Van’s unheralded classics, 1974’s Veedon Fleece, by the popular vinyl subscription service Vinyl Me, Please is further proof that millennials are discovering the iconic and influential singer-songwriter who their parents might have loved. Mine certainly did, and Van Morrison records and songs are one of the few types of music that everyone in my family can agree on.

So while the audience skewed older for the show, there were plenty of younger people sprinkled among the gray-haired patrons, and the energy the crowd gave Van was matched only by his own inexhaustible charisma — and that eternal voice. Opening the night I attended with a pair of covers — Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day” and legendary saxophonist Lester Young’s “The New Symphony Sid,” both of which gave his band a bit of time to flex — he quickly transitioned into beloved classics like the immortal feel good balladry of “Days Like This” the stunning and sweet “Have I Told You Lately” (yes, Van wrote it), and the 1982 Celtic folk hymn “Beautiful Vision.”

One of the best things about seeing Van perform live is his propensity to dip into the jazz tradition of mixing and matching songs, freewheeling through different medleys and creating a whole new beast in the process. Such was the case for a mid-set mashup of his glittering jazz hit “Moondance” into “So What” and “My Funny Valentine” and then right back into “Moondance.” Following that string of improvisation and scatting up immediately after with “Crazy Love” just further revealed Van’s impeccable bandwidth and scope, and luckily since I was among a crowd of diehard fans, I wasn’t the only one who yelped with joy to hear “Cleaning Windows” made the setlist, too.

Finishing up with the crowd-pleasing “Brown Eyed Girl” and Astral Weeks cut “Ballerina” as the encore, Van’s band stayed onstage a solid ten minutes after his departure, taking a solo apiece and basking in the glow of an audience who would’ve sat for another two hours. Considering Van is still prolific, even at 73, releasing not one but two new records last year, there would’ve been plenty more excellent material to fill up several more hours. Finally, the band played their last note and stood up, the house lights came on and the evening was over. But as we all trickled out, that voice was still there somehow, floating in each of us, leaving traces of itself in the wake.