Concert review: Van Morrison still stirring souls at Atlanta show

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Van Morrison was knighted by the Queen of England. Photo: Getty Images (Morrison's photo release was too restrictive for the AJC to shoot Sunday's concert.)
Van Morrison was knighted by the Queen of England. Photo: Getty Images (Morrison's photo release was too restrictive for the AJC to shoot Sunday's concert.)

Van Morrison was knighted by the Queen of England. Photo: Getty Images (Morrison’s photo release was too restrictive for the AJC to shoot Sunday’s concert.)

There isn’t much filler at a Van Morrison concert – and that’s a good thing, since he’s only onstage for 90 minutes.

But, as evidenced at his sold-out Sunday night appearance at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, the forthright musical treasure knows how to stuff plenty of emotion into a tight, compact show.

At exactly 8 p.m., the recently knighted Morrison strode onto the stage with his saxophone, snapped his fingers and led his four-piece band into the instrumental “Celtic Swing.”

In characteristic Morrison-wear – brown fedora, tinted glasses, dark suit sitting atop a paisley shirt and ascot tie – the 70-year-old singer-musician looked and sounded hearty.

With his left hand on a gold, corded microphone and his right clasping the stand, Morrison leaned back to blast a note in “By His Grace” as keyboardist Paul Moran sprinkled rustic organ throughout the song.

Without ever pausing for a break – though the un-vain Irishman did turn his back to the crowd to blow his nose a few times during the show – Morrison, his band and potent backup singer unleashed a fulfilling sample of a 50-year career, pushing the tempo during “Wavelength,” throwing his right hand down with the beat throughout “Sometimes We Cry” and breaking out a tambourine for added texture on “Real Real Gone.”

No one expects talking during a Van Morrison concert – from the stage, that is – and the famously business-like singer didn’t surprise and suddenly break into a soliloquy. But he absolutely threw himself into the show, cupping the mic during a stomping “Baby, Please Don’t Go” to create a megaphone effect (that equates to playful for Morrison) and, after mumbling something indecipherable, breaking into “Georgia on My Mind.” It sounded exactly as you would expect the Hoagy Carmichael classic to sound under Morrison’s guidance – rich, tight and soulful, filled with scats and asides as Morrison dug into the lyrics.

Dancing bass anchored “Wild Night” and the combination of brass from Morrison and Moran ushered in the creeping, insinuating “Moondance,” during which every member of the glistening band took a brief solo spin.

A swinging take on “Brown-Eyed Girl” prompted the expected singalong (“shalala,” anyone?) and “Whenever God Shines His Light” – a 1989 duet with Cliff Richard – injected a spurt of gospel into the concert.

After performing “In the Garden,” a lovely song driven by a honeyed piano melody, Morrison strolled off the stage, still singing, but quickly returned to romp with his band on John Lee Hooker’s “Think Twice Before You Go.”

As the familiar strains of Morrison’s Them gem from 1964, the eternal barroom rocker “Gloria,” filled the amphitheater – the same venue he played during his last Atlanta visit in 2010 – guitarist Dave Keary led a monster jam that continued for about 10 minutes after Morrison again left the stage.

With such a lengthy coda, fans might have expected Morrison to return. But the enigmatic singer had probably departed the premises in a private car by the time the last note rang, maintaining his mysterious air a little longer.

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Set list from Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on April 24, 2016

Celtic Swing

Close Enough for Jazz

By His Grace

Someone Like You

Wavelength

Sometimes We Cry

Real Real Gone

Baby, Please Dont Go/Dont Start Crying Now

Georgia on My Mind

Wild Night

Days Like This

Precious Time

I Cant Stop Loving You

Moondance

Brown-Eyed Girl

Crazy Love

Whenever God Shines His Light

In the Garden

Jackie Wilson Said

Think Twice Before You Go

Gloria


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