It Was A Marvelous Night For A Moondance
September 8th, 2018
Sometimes things happen for a reason, don't they? I was supposed to be out of town this weekend on a corporate photography gig that had a last minute meltdown and subsequent cancellation. Needing a break from a breakneck summer that has allotted me very few days off since early June, I relished the idea of sitting around the mancave in my skivvies, binge-watching Netflix, and enjoying some decent west side barbecue with the offspring.
However, a last minute invitation, and an even later-minute Hail Mary to his publicist garnered me an opportunity to attend Outlaw Fest, Willie Nelson's gathering of Country/Rock impresarios, and see Van Morrison in an extremely rare area appearance. As a matter of fact, from everything I've researched, Morrison hasn't played Cleveland in forty-three years. Outlaw Fest, in this area's only appearance, was two hours southeast of here, at Pittsburgh's KeyBank Pavilion. He hasn't played there since 1973, making a Van Morrison concert about as rare as a Bigfoot sighting. Or a Cleveland Browns' win.
I threw my gear in the car and made the sojourn towards Western Pennsylvania without having garnered that coveted approval; after arriving and listening to Brandi Carlile's fiery set and the beginning of Sturgill Simpson's blistering presence did I get the email that I was, in fact, good to go.
It's difficult to put into words what a monumental occasion this show was: To see Morrison on stage, spry at 73 years of age and still in possession of a fine voice, was a bucket lister treat. To be able to photograph him from the pit for the first two songs was perhaps a highlight of this shutterbug's year.
Approaching the stage in front of his six-piece band, the diminutive Ulster Irishman was decked out in a pair of round sunglasses, a pin-striped suit, and a hat that covered most of his head. He laid into "The Way Young Lovers Do," from the seminal 1968 album Astral Weeks.
Showcasing a wide array of tunes from several albums that encompass a career of fifty-plus years, he gave the audience what they wanted to hear. Mid-set standard "Moondance" brought the crowd to its collective feet. Although offered at a quicker tempo than perhaps we've been accustomed to hearing the classic song, the arrangement worked. Soon after "Moondance," Morrison sang "Wild Night," in to which his aged baritone has definitely settled. Sadly, three of his more popular tunes didn't make the set. "Crazy Love," a perennial fave and huge hit from 1970's Moondance, was missing. Ditto for "Into the Mystic," also from that album. Notoriously absent from the set was 1989's "Have I Told You Lately?," a Morrison tune made famous in the early '90s as a Rod Stewart cover.
Saving some of his best cuts, Morrison and company offered "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" and "Brown-Eyed Girl" for the last. Still one of the most popular songs on terrestrial radio, "Brown-Eyed Girl" became a singalong as the twenty-thousand-plus members of the drunken lawn crowd joined the pavilion attendees in a massive homage to the singer/songwriter.
Leaving the stage for a few moments, Morrison returned to close out his portion of the gig with "Gloria," the tune that, fittingly, started it off for Morrison more than fifty years ago.
It was a marvelous night, even if it was moonless.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley