Van Morrison

No Big Whoop!

Bob Dylan
with Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison
GM Place
Vancouver, B.C.
Thursday, May 14, 1998

Review by Gary 'pigboy' Swartz
Van Morrison Photography by Rodney Gitzel

[ed. In a quirk of media accreditation, we ended up with a writer at the big show, and then a photographer at the first of Van Morrison's two shows the next night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre...]

There was an odd buzz among the over-40's on the Skytrain. They were off to see the icons of their misspent youth. To recapture something they swore they'd never lose. Before they had jobs. Before they had kids. Before they had RESPONSIBILITIES. An odd buzz for what turned out to be an odd evening. At least from one perspective.

Van Morrison's guitarist The details are all a bit hazy, fittingly perhaps, for a bill that was supposed to recall the '60s or '70s (not the '80s, I'm pretty sure). And for a '90s kind of reason. It was the first show I've ever reviewed from the press gallery five floors up in GM Place. The sound sucks up there, big time. You're lucky to hear one word in ten -- sung or spoken -- and you lose all sense of being at an event and part of the crowd. Something I never realized was important before.

Van Morrison It made me feel like I should have one of those thingies in my ear that lets a statistician feed you obscure facts you can repeat profoundly and appear to be really erudite. Like Marv Alb... make that Bob Costas. You know, statements like, "The combined show biz careers of the headliners on this stage is..." (I was going to look it up, but hey, not doing it is kind of a '60s thing, so let's call it 30 times 3 plus 10%, an even 99 years.) Or that "The word 'Van' is Irish for 'wanker.'" Or that "That's the so manyeth time that Joni Mitchell has performed some song." (Except she didn't perform that song.) Or "Did you know there were more pigs in the town Bob Dylan was born in than people?" Like that. Except there was no earpiece. Or maybe the earpiece guy, another '60s holdover, just forgot to show up.

Van Morrison's bassist Joni didn't. Show up, I mean. At least not the one her fans came to see. Which was too bad. Mitchell did this jazz thing of material from her latest album for an audience full of balding and graying boomers who came to hear the stuff she did for them when they had the world by the balls. For the most part they politely endured it, although they did start calling out song titles toward the end of her set. To her great credit (this is called an understatement), she did come out and do that song about a parking lot for an encore. But by then it was too late.

As far as I'm concerned it was also too late, is also too late, for Van Morrison, who proceeded her. That abomination he produced for John Lee Hooker called Don't Look Back is unforgivable, and the man should be banned from music for life. I suspect that, for his older fans, a banning for another reason might be in order. Why? For Morrison's single-minded commitment to pushing his latest CD, which we refuse to name here. He did do that song about all the tea in China, and one other that you'd recognized. Unfortunately the sound was so bad up there next to God's toenails that I couldn't tell you what it was. But the audience went nuts. Or maybe they were just doing some aerobics -- the fate I'd consign all Morrison's music to.

Don Morrison To tell you the truth, if it hadn't been for the promise of Dylan closing the show, I'd probably have been long gone after one or two of Morrison's worn out blues clichés. Whatever.

Dylan, however, was Dylan. And worth staying for. (I confess I probably listened a little harder. You learn to do that with Dylan, live.) He played a couple tunes from Time Out of Mind, his latest, and then jumped all over his repertoire. Which is what the audience would have liked from the other two. The show being billed as it was, that shouldn't have been too much to expect. (Or maybe it was.)

Regardless, Dylan certainly provided what I thought was the most profound moment of the night when he sang "Forever Young." It's what the audience, optimists ever, yours very truly included, were hoping to feel. Instead, for the most part we were reminded of how much we've aged.

Then again, optimists ever, if our contemporary Bob Dylan still speaks for his generation, maybe we've just gotten better. Bob has.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on June 16, 1998

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