Van Morrison - lead vocals, guitar; Katie Kissoon - vocals; Herbie Armstrong - guitar, vocals; John Platania - guitar; David Hayes - bass; Pete Wingfield - keyboards; Mark Isham - trumpet; Tony Marcus - violin, keyboards; Pee Wee Ellis - saxophone; Peter Van Hooke - drums
One of the most enigmatic songwriters of our time, Van Morrison first gained recognition as the lead singer of the Northern Irish band Them, writing their seminal 1964 hit "Gloria." When Morrison began pursuing his own career in the late 1960s, he began a long journey down one of the most idiosyncratic musical paths in history, becoming one of the most distinctive and influential vocalists in all of modern music. His synthesis of folk, blues, jazz, and Celtic influences is unique. Although stylistically diverse, Morrison's greatest songs fall into two loosely defined categories. His popular hits, such as "Brown Eyed Girl," "Moondance," "Domino," and "Wild Night" are tightly structured around the stylistic conventions of American soul and R&B, but an equal and more compelling catalogue consists of spiritually inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz, and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as his debut album Astral Weeks and lesser known works such as Veedon Fleece. Hypnotic, meditative, and having a unique musical power, Morrison's music has always defied classifications. Morrison is a true innovator whose fusion of R&B, jazz, blues, and Celtic folk has produced one of the most spiritually transcendent bodies of work of any musician of the rock era.
Following several years during the mid-1970s, when Morrison issued Period Of Transition and Wavelength, two albums that found him creatively drifting, he returned to form with the 1979 release of Into the Music, his most passionate and lyrically powerful album in years. The first side of this album featured lively, joyful songs with rich melodies, and it was immediately obvious that Morrison was again fully engaged, pouring his heart and soul into the recordings. However, it was the second side, featuring four contemplative songs programmed as a romantic suite, that was most evocative. To many, these four tracks represent the absolute zenith of Morrison's recording career as he has rarely surpassed the unbridled passion and emotional depth that was captured on these recordings.
When Morrison hit the road to promote the album, he was again in top form and accompanied by one of the best touring bands he had ever assembled. The group included two guitarists besides Morrison, including longtime cohort John Platania and former David Bowie guitarist Herbie Armstrong. Pete Wingfield was on board as keyboardist, as was the rhythm section of bassist David Hayes and drummer Peter Van Hooke. Morrison's horn section boasted both jazz icon Mark Isham on trumpet, and former James Brown saxman, Pee Wee Ellis, and singer Katie Kissoon, a veteran from the Morrison's '78 band, as well as previous tours with Eric Clapton and many others, proves herself a wonderful compliment to Morrison's distinctive voice.
One of the most celebrated performances on the tour occurred on November 6, 1979, when Van Morrison hit the stage of the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, which was filmed and recorded by the Bill Graham Presents crew, who provided technical support on this tour. That performance, which features a heavy emphasis on the then new Into the Music material, is presented here in its entirety and should be considered essential listening for all Van Morrison fans.
The set kicks off with one of the high points of Morrison's previous album Wavelength's "Kingdom Hall." Right from the start Morrison, who is well known for his moodiness, sounds in great spirits, and the band backs him with great finesse. The joyous spirit continues on the upbeat "Bright Side of the Road," the first of the new songs performed here. Morrison then offers up a refreshing approach to the classic "Here Comes the Night," written and recorded by his old pop band, Them, in 1965. Here the song has a far more relaxed arrangement that bears little resemblance to the version released during the British Invasion. The ethereal Moondance album track, "Into The Mystic" is next, followed by "You Make Me Feel So Free," another buoyant new number from Into the Music that finds Morrison sounding more content than ever.
A highlight of Morrison's Hard Nose the Highway album follows, with an engaging performance of "Warm Love," before he digs deeper into the new material. With the exception of a great cover of Bobby Blue Bland's "Ain't Nothin' You Can Do," which had been a live staple for years, Morrison next tackles some of the most penetrating material from the new album, including superb performances of Tommy Edwards' "It's All In the Game" and his own "You Know What They're Writing About" played back to back, just as they close Into the Music album. A heart-wrenching "Angeliou" and a soul-stirring "Full Force Gale," a full bore celebration of spiritual ecstasy, are also included. These numbers are remarkably poetic statements and potent reminders of the ferocity and passion of Morrison at his best.
A strong rendition of the title track to Wavelength is also featured, but otherwise, the remainder of the set focuses on classic older material. Morrison and Kissoon trade verses on a lovely reading of "Moondance," and both the title track and "Moonshine Whiskey" are featured from the Tupelo Honey album. To conclude the set, Morrison dips back to the Street Choir album for a smoldering version of "I've Been Working," sounding as happy as he ever has as the group creates a glorious rush of sound behind him.
This leaves the audience literally howling for more and when Morrison returns for his encore, he serves up another enticing Into the Music track, the self-referencing "Troubadours." This is a wonderful performance with standout contributions from Isham and Ellis on horns and Tony Marcus on violin. Morrison wraps it up with an energetic romp through his first single, "Brown Eyed Girl," ending the set with the song that launched his career as a solo artist.
Following such a strong encore, the audience continues to clamour for more and seems to have no intention of letting the evening end. Morrison and band eventually relent and return to the stage for a second encore. In a rare display of humor, Morrison announces "This is an Irish folk song" as the group begin the driving pulse of "Gloria," ending the show with a serious bang.
All said and done, this performance is undeniably strong and often brilliant. This is Van Morrison at the top of his game, delivering a set fueled with unbridled passion, sounding at times positively possessed.