Van Morrison - vocals; John Klingberg - bass; Jeff Labes - piano, organ; John Platania - guitar; Jack Schroer - alto sax; Collin Tilton - tenor sax; Dave Shaw - drums
Rock 'n' roll comes in many different shapes and sizes, and on the night of April 26, 1970, it came to the Fillmore West in the form of a barrel-chested Irishman in a silk shirt and flares.
At 24 years of age, Van Morrison had already experienced the sort of career rollercoaster that less robust singers preferred to stretch out over a lifetime. The blue-eyed soul of his early work with Ulster pub-rockers Them had been all but abandoned in favor of darker, more introspective material on his seminal solo recordings; but the grit and bluster of a Belfast childhood spent devouring R&B records would always be evident in his feral howl. Onstage, his portrayal of detached cool and sweaty bravado was just a veneer; a mask for the sensitive and difficult poet that often retreated to his home in Northern Ireland to escape the torments of the music industry (sometimes to the detriment of his career). It was likely these retreats, however, that kept his talent so pure for so long, allowing him to beat a totally unique path through the dense forest of popular music.
The release of Moondance in February of 1970 saw Van taking his rhythm and folk in a sweeter, jazzier direction. His band clearly relishes the opportunity to showcase the album's material before a sedated Fillmore crowd. Stumbling only at the beginning of the obligatory "Brown Eyed Girl," the group delivers flawless renditions of most of the Moondance favorites, then brings the pitch to a glorious crescendo with nearly 13 minutes of "Cyprus Avenue" from Astral Weeks - dig the Otis Redding "wall of horns."
After 36 years of constant rotation, it's hard to think of some of these songs as fresh, but the live context adds a warm dimension and enriches the album versions by showing how close to "7 guys playin' in a room" they really are. Not a lot of surprises for big Van-heads, but those new to his canon will be treated to a solid overview of what are arguably his best and most famous albums. This is the real stuff; before The Commitments and Rattle and Hum, Irish soul had one name - and it was Van.