Van Morrison Warms Up a Cool Greek Theatre Night With a Performance of His Hit Album 'Astral Weeks'

Lara Brucker/Staff

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About 30 minutes into Van Morrison's Saturday night show at the Greek Theatre, a siren could be seen flashing to the left of the stage. Though most of the crowd didn't notice it, the few spectators that caught a glimpse of the glare could also be seen with inquisitive looks on their faces. What happened? Or, rather, what is so important that it needs to interrupt a Van Morrison concert?

It was hard to say, really. But after a few moments of investigation, it seemed that a crew of firemen dotted the top row of the Greek. No one was hurt. They came to watch the show.

When a legend like Van Morrison is in town, it's best to make a point of seeing him. The East Bay has attracted quite a few big names in just the past few weeks: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, blues legend B.B. King and bluegrass master Ralph Stanley have all made widely publicized appearances, and Morrison's two-day stint at the Greek rounds out that prestigious list.

Though Morrison advertised his shows as simply "Astral Weeks Live" to appease fans of his groundbreaking 1968 release, he surprised the audience with a lengthy two-part concert, half Astral Weeks and half hits, including "Gloria" (but not "Brown Eyed Girl").

The concert's pace began slowly, much like the influx of audience members, many of whom rolled in well after Morrison had started his set. But, to be fair, most concertgoers expect a good 45-minute downtime, beer-fetching, bathroom-using period before any concert. Morrison limited that period to a quick 10 minutes, marching onstage with his fingers practically formed into his first piano chord of the evening. He wasted no time, he made no small talk and he played no encore. He is a musical anomaly, insisting on a 20-minute intermission. How else would he have earned that "legendary" tag?

On stage, Morrison takes on the role of the in-band conductor-the concertmaster, if you will. Despite being surrounded by at least 15 professional musicians, he occasionally feels the need to direct an emphatic fist pump or hand swoop toward his band to indicate a crescendo or a song-ending chord. But if you're a member of Van Morrison's band, you listen no matter what. After all, the man can play a ton of instruments himself-this performance alone showcased his piano, guitar, harmonica and saxophone skills, as well as his penchant for a plethora of musical genres. But his most precious instrument, his voice, was the star of the show.

Famed Rolling Stone critic Greil Marcus once said, "No white man sings like Van Morrison." It's easy to deny that statement's political correctness, but it's hard to dispute its validity. Even into his 60s, Van the Man can still belt out tunes like a spring chicken. Renditions of "And the Healing Has Begun" and "It's All in the Game" demonstrated his jazzy, scat-heavy vocal prowess.

It's really a wonder that the tone of Morrison's voice is so clear. His speaking voice, which made a brief appearance during "Madame George"-played during the Astral Weeks half of concert-has obviously been ravished by over 50 years in the music business, but his singing voice has only deepened to bass range with time. He creates a booming, massive sound with almost no effort, instead straining physically to show the emotion displayed so evidently in his voice. The only noticeable deterioration is his slow descent into "Louie, Louie" territory; many of his lyrics are completely indiscernible because he stands so close to the microphone, but to a certain extent it's always been that way.

Van Morrison's mysterious "way" has always been the crux of his appeal. It's still hard to believe that one guy from Belfast can have the power to influence country, pop, blues and rock, all while staying extremely low-profile. He may never reveal his secrets, nor tell us exactly what he's saying, but he'll sure as hell have a following of fans always eager to watch him in action.

Wish for brown eyes with Stefanie at [email protected]

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