IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME - Van Morrison & Taj Mahal 9/19/2023

Reviewed by Claudio Vernight

Age is starting to show itself with us baby boomers, especially up on stage. Just this season, Neil Young (77) had to be helped on and off stage and wandered around forgetting things in between songs. All of the seventy-something Chicago band held their own and even had the wind for their hits. Even Ringo (83!) showed us how to do it, (albeit with a second drummer and lots of breaks,) when he did jumping jacks along with "Yellow Submarine."

            Taj Mahal (81) might have needed help getting to his chair but once in it, he played a string of the original blues hits that we all remember from the first several albums. He was right at home with "Corrina," "Diving Duck Blues," "She Caught the Katy," "Light Rain," and a universal favorite, "Fishin' Blues." Playing his trademark Dobro resonator guitar, his fingerpicking might have lost a step but his verbalizing (it's way more than just singing,) has moved into another level. He was the perfect opener for Van and the lovefest was evident.

            Travelling with a nine-piece orchestra from all over the world, Van Morrison (78,) entered stage right a la all the matinee idols of the past including a favorite of his, James Brown. Sporting a salmon suit and ivory fedora and hiding behind his perennial aviator glasses, he brought his soul and R&B show to the Greek and let us know why he is such a revered artist. He played what he wanted, not necessarily what the crowd expected (although "Wild Nights" and "Domino" were unexpected surprises and not played along the tour.)

            He started off with his new "thing," a return to the music of his youth, skiffle, and a song called "Streamlined Train." He then moved into a volley of covers, with the traditional Appalachian standard, "Sail Away Ladies' written by Uncle Dave Macon and his Fruit Jar Swingers, with a skiffle beat. The bluegrass "Streamlined Cannonball" by Country Music legend, Roy Acuff, was presented like his own. "I Wish I was an Apple on an Apple Tree," and when my lover came by, she'd take a bite out of me. Van might have heard Ricky Nelson do it, but his band infused new life into the nursery rhyme.

            From "Greenback Dollar" to Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," he had the perfect feel for each. His band was exceptional. On organ and keys was Georgie Fame, a star in his own right but he had the best Hammond B3 settings and played solos that stopped the show. He played his solos one-handed like Jimmy Smith.

            Van hired two guitarists for the job. One was Bernie Holland who played tasty, memorable licks with a unique sound. He also played mandocello on the Roy Acuff number, lap steel on "Cold Cold Heart" and more. To his right was long-time stalwart, John Platania, who has been with Van off and on for the length of his touring career. John originated the opening lick of "Domino" and got to show it off last night. All his sounds on Astral Weeks could be heard last night as John is a true innovator, never playing the same lick twice. He was exceptional on the straight Sam Cooke blues, "Laughin' and Clownin.' "

            Van the man himself pulled out his tenor sax on several songs and held his own with his baritone player extraordinare. He is limited and linear, but he does have a tone, his own sound, that makes it all worthwhile. And of course, his harp playing is well known since his days with the Northern Irish band, Them.

            Van had several surprises for us, the first being a collaboration with a gospel choir. The Agape International Unconditional Love Choir joined the band and brought the fever to an even higher pitch. His daughter, Shana Morrison, joined for a duet and the girl can sing. They had a timing issue, probably due to no rehearsal but no matter, she has one set of soul pipes and showed us all she can front her own band.

            Before they closed he brought Taj out to join him on Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"   and he gave Taj the best lines ("I'm like a one-eyed cat peeking in a seafood store." And "The way you wear those dresses and the sun come shining through.")

            And it wouldn't be a Van concert without his first hit, the garage band standard (hey, my band played it, in a garage, in 1965,) "Gloria." With the whole crowd singing "G-L-O-R-I-A" and it bouncing off the surrounding Griffith Park hills, it was a perfect blue-eyed soul evening.

"Shake, Rattle and Roll" with Taj.

Posted By DH Magazine on September 20, 2023 02:15 pm | Permalink