Live Review: Night Two of Van Morrison's Three-Night Run at Oakland's Fox Theater

Few can disagree that it's been a tumultuous couple of weeks for fans of popular music. From David Bowie to Lemmy Kilmister, Glenn Frey to the lesser-known, but equally impressive, Mic Gillette (Tower Of Power, anyone?), we have lost a slew of musical greats.

Thankfully, at the ripe young age of 70, Irish singer / musician and Music Hall Of Fame inductee Van Morrison shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, playing three shows in Oakland directly following a successful run of dates in Southern California.

[jump] For the uninitiated, Morrison fronted Northern Irish band Them for a very brief period before launching his highly successful solo career. Morrison has won six Grammy Awards and spawned a number of hits, including “Gloria,” “Baby, Please Don't Go,” “Here Comes the Night” and “Mystic Eyes.”

As evidenced by his spellbinding performance last night at Oakland's Fox Theater – the second of a sold-out three-day residency at the venue – Morrison proved his staying power, yet again, to several different generations of new and older fans alike.

From the minute the opening notes of “Celtic Swing” – an odd, yet somehow fitting instrumental culled from his grossly overlooked 1983 album, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart – filled the Fox Theater, those in attendance immediately fixated on Morrison who drove the melody home with his alto saxophone. Aided by his able group – bassist Paul Moore, drummer Robbie Ruggiero, trumpet/keyboard player/ bandleader Paul Moran, singer Dana Masters, and guitarist Dave Keary – Morrison and company launched headlong into their set. Instead of spreading out across the vast Fox Theater stage, the group opted to play close together, with all musicians huddled closely around Morrison who barricaded himself among a handful of stage monitors.

Next, he played a wonderfully careless rendition of “Higher Than The World,” which kicked off the night in grandiose fashion with a hearty swing and swagger. Opting to avoid between-song banter, Morrison led his musicians through a 100-plus minute set that found the music, inevitably, doing much of the talking.
And, unlike the set lists at his Southern California shows just days before (and even the night before at the same venue), Morrison surprised the audience with some unexpected additional songs, like “Did Ye Get Healed” from Poetic Champions Compose (1987) and “Cleaning Windows” from Beautiful Vision (1982).

Other highlights included a wonderful medley that included a revved-up version of Them's “Baby, Please Don't Go,” along with a heady take on a blues staple popularized by Mose Allison called “Parchman Farm.”

Hit medleys and songs aside, it was the inclusion of his daughter, Shana Morrison, (who also opened the show with a very brief set) that was met with great approval from longtime fans and newbies, alike. Watching and hearing the father / daughter combo for two mid-set numbers — “Sometimes We Cry” and Johnny Mercer's “That Old Black Magic – showed concertgoers just how much love and respect the two have for another. (Shana even kissed her father on the cheek as she exited stage right.)

If there was ever a time to see our musical greats before they leave this dimension, it would be now. When all is said and done, no price tag — tickets for these shows started at $89.50 and went up to $249.50 – is too much to witness a rare live music experience that lasts a lifetime.

Word has it that a few tickets were released for tonight's show on the Fox Theater's Facebook site, the last of his local run.

Yes, it's time to splurge. You only live once.

Critic’s Notebook:

• According to one bartender who works at several different venues for promoter Another Planet Entertainment, there was a big upgrade to the venue's sometimes faltering sound system. Last night's show was the second official night it was used in public. By all accounts, the move to satiate those with sensitive ears was a rousing success as everything sounded terrific and near stereo quality.
•Unfortunately, it's customary at this venue to close most of the downstairs bar due to noise during certain shows and tonight's show was certainly no exception. In an effort to keep the theater patrons quiet during a set laden with softer moments, many bars were closed before his daughter Shana opened the show. The Den, also located downstairs on the main level, thankfully, was open to patrons in addition to the bar upstairs.
 •Unlike noisier, more raucous shows with younger crowds, cell phones were (for the most part) silenced. Because the floor was seated, few stood until Morrison's set-closing song, “In The Garden.” Heaps of applause followed as Morrison walked offstage repeating the line, “ No guru, no method, no teacher,” only to return minutes later for the night-ending encore. 

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