November 11th, 2001
By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic
I do not believe a man can turn into a frog or Superman like fairy tales or comic books tell us they can.
But I do believe a man can turn into something inanimate, which is more fantastic than science fiction.
At the Rosemont Theatre Tuesday night, I saw Van Morrison not just sing a song, he disappeared into it so completely he became that song.
As if warding off anything diversionary, especially physical motion, Morrison stood stiff-necked and silent, a pudgy man in a porkpie hat, with head cocked to the rafters. But when it was his cue to sing, he yanked the microphone stand to his mouth and belted, barked and roared. As his band jumped through “Bright Side of the Road,” Morrison was chasing after a different song entirely, his voice moving up and around the melody wildly, while the rest of his body remained stoic, as if in a trance.
It was the combination of thuggish attitude and pure commitment that has made Morrison, 55, one of the truly unique figures in pop history. As much as his song lyrics summon soul greats like James Brown or Solomon Burke, Morrison’s own live performances are tests whether he cares to match the blissed-out exuberance of his heroes.
Since his current U.S. tour is the byproduct of a recent country and blues album he record with Lina Gail Lewis (the younger piano playing sister of rock pioneer Jerry Lee) it was suspected Morrison would bypass the more meditative side of his career, which began as a teenager nearly 40 years ago.
But Morrison didn’t visit the new album as much as expected. He and Lewis dug up some rock music roots with covers by Chuck Berry, Hank Williams, Bo Diddley and “The Killer,” Jerry Lee himself. But the songs were less duets than they were rapid-fire teardowns with both of them racing to see who could finish first.
Lewis, and her jump blues band the Red Hot Pokers, branded the show with the energy of a road-house all-nighter. Her rat-a-tat-tat playing style reached a pinnacle when she kicked over her chair and pounded the keys with fists and right foot – so reminiscent of her famous older brother.
Her most valuable contribution was during Morrison originals. “I can’t Stop Loving You” got dialed down to a slow burn and she even prompted Morrison to pull out “Brown-Eyed Girl,” a song he has largely refused to sing ever since first recording it.
While the only thing that prevented the Rosemont Theatre from becoming a sock hop were the bolted seats, Morrison softened things down with “The Philosopher’s Stone.” Accented by a flute and a harmonica he slurped more than sang through, the song had traces of his mystical masterpiece, “Astral Weeks.”
But his song “Precious Time” explained Morrison’s endurance more than words. Although the song sneered at the idea of immortality (“everything in life just passes away”), Morrison sang it with such renewed spirit, the music felt like forever.