WUMB March Program Guide

Van at Yoshi’s

Call me crazy. I flew from across the country last month to see Van Morrison perform in Oakland, California. This was serious bucket-list territory for me, having wanted to see Morrison ever since hearing the Moondance album as a kid. I had tickets to a 1999 show boasting Van as headliner – the Fleadh Festival at Suffolk Downs, in Boston – but Van wasn’t feeling well that day and didn’t make the trip from Ireland.

I had been waiting and waiting, and when, finally, I had the chance to see him at Oakland’s 310-seat Yoshi’s on February 11, 2020, I did not hesitate. It seemed unlikely that he would skip this one, so there was no chance that I was going to.

I was not disappointed.

Maybe I was a little sad that he didn’t play most of my favorites—like “Madame George,” “Into the Mystic,” or “Wavelength—but in the end, it didn’t matter. He did play a number of originals, including crowd favorites like “Moondance” and “Brown-Eyed Girl, and several from his latest album and others from the past two decades.

What made it a great night was that Morrison and his 7-piece band performed with fire and soul and that his voice sounded incredible. It was that unmistakeable Van voice – at turns powerful and incantatory, at others unpredictable and searching. There is nothing like Van’s vocal tone, even when it’s clear he can’t hit all of the high notes he once did.

Most of the 27-song repertoire—jazz, soul, and blues standards—seemed perfectly tailored for the evening’s setting in one of the world’s most acclaimed jazz clubs, but I suspect the night’s setlist had more to do with the singer’s roots than the venue. He had, after all, spent much of his youth listening to his father’s record collection, bursting with artists ranging from Charlie Parker and Mahalia Jackson to Muddy Waters and Hank Williams.

It is clear that for all the hard work he put in to writing original songs for his dozens of albums, he appears to be happier these days returning to the artists and songs that first lit him up.

What was really surprising was how much he made these standards completely his own. He took on familiar tunes like “Georgia (On My Mind)” and “Jumping with Symphony Sid” and transformed them into songs that sound as if Van Morrison has been the only person to ever sing them.

Van Morrison at Yoshi’s in Oakland, CA, Feb. 11, 2020 (photo by Abby Cheitlin)

I’ll expand my thoughts on this show and publish a longer post elsewhere, but that is the general idea of what transpired that night.

Great music spanning decades of music history, performed by a true legend. If you have a chance to see Morrison in a small venue, do it. If he does what he did at Yoshi’s, you won’t be disappointed.

And I promise I’ll keep airing his music from time to time—including his lesser-known originals and childhood influences—on Sunday Morning Brew.

~ Rob Hochschild

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