Gig review: Van Morrison (Bonus Arena, Hull)

Van Morrison. Picture: PA.
Van Morrison. Picture: PA.
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THERE'S something magnetic about Sir Van Morrison, even as he steadfastly eschews the typicality of live pleasantries.

Only speaking to praise his band on occasion and, perhaps twice, thank the audience, he is inscrutably gruff for a stage performer, a resolute outlier in the world of modern-day identikit crowd participation.

It gives his show in Hull the air of a classical recital rather than a pop-rock concert; yet almost 3,000 pairs of eyes can barely drag themselves away from him and the beguiling performance he delivers.

Van the Man is on the banks of the Humber to christen the Bonus Arena, the new multi-purpose venue poised to re-establish the East Riding of Yorkshire as a major port of call for big-name artists on the touring circuit.

Given his latter-day reembrace of the jazz roots that shaped him as a young man and sporadic live reputation of late, Morrison’s booking is both impressive coup and calculated risk – but he proves more than up to the occasion, turning in a brisk 95-minute show that sees him coalesce his reputation as both free-flowing bandleader and Celtic soul poet into something genuinely stirring.

Aided by an outrageously accomplished six-piece band, his arrival to the soothing sway of Skye Boat Song signals a fervent journey across the 50-plus years of his solo catalogue with a husky relish.

The first half conveys a lounge vibe, from the finger-popping swing of Moondance to smoothed-out jazz shuffles through Magic Time and Have I Told You Lately, yet Morrison – a day shy of 73 – imbues them with such a genuine lease of life that they feel utterly revitalised, his voice still a powerhouse weapon decades later.

A showstopping rendition of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home to Me around halfway through signals a shift to soft-rock ballad territory, where a one-two punch of Enlightenment and Carrying a Torch draws a rapt reception, and Did Ye Get Healed? spawns a flurry of loose improv solos.

The only real misstep is to fill out the final stretch with a series of low-key medleys in the absence of copper-bottomed crowd-pleasing hits – but a second encore of Brown Eyed Girl, elongated into a bouncing finale gets the Bonus Arena up and out of their seats for a boogie.

An opening-night baptism of fire from Morrison then; one that proves the Belfast Cowboy can still ride out with the best of them decades later.