How do you solve a problem like Van Morrison? Don't get me wrong, I come not to bury Van, but to praise him. The thing is, he is such a singular artist that he confounds expectations and classifications.
The show opens with a sequence of precision-tooled jazz/soul/swing - call it what you will, but 'Close Enough For Jazz', 'Magic Time' and 'Moondance' serve to conjure up a warm mood. Then there's a throwback R&B medley. 'Baby Please Don't Go' lacks urgency, perhaps still bridging from the opening, but 'Parchman Farm' livens things up with some blues harp, and Van singing into the harp mic, before - glory be! - making a bit of a joke around the repeated gunshot drumming around the line about having shot his wife. 'Don't Start Crying Now' rounds off the blues segment, and that's the cue for things to veer into distinctively Vannish territory.
'Raglan Road' has a soulful, Celtic tinge to it that begins to draw the audience in, and from that point there is a gradual unfolding into a gorgeousness in which song titles become irrelevant. And that, I guess, is the point of Van Morrison. His vocals play an elemental part in this - in the pantheon of vocal legends he must surely be up there with the likes of Tony Bennet and Ella Fitzgerald in terms of his ability to bend and twist lines into new shapes. The other thing that strikes me, not for the first time, is the signal beauty of some of the piano lines Van writes, which often hit that sweet spot of sounding unique and yet timeless. His lyrics on some of these songs also occupy a Zen-like territory where simplicity becomes evocative, even if he does say 'Enlightenment, don't know what it is'.
Interspersed with the deepness, as it were, are lighter numbers that for me are equally delightful. 'Precious Time', 'Days Like This' and 'In The Afternoon' are all in this vein - the last of which raised laughs of recognition about 'afternoon delight' from some quarters of the audience.
The closing 'Into The Mystic' and encore of 'Ballerina' cast further spells over the audience to end the evening, with Van singing his way into the wings. Along the way he leaves his band to deliver a well deserved showcase of their talents - though they didn't get an introduction, and if you manage to identify them via the internet you've got more patience than I have. It's a curious breach of protocol to my mind, but perhaps playing with Van Morrison is deemed to be a reward unto itself.
As I was leaving I heard one side of a conversation, in which some greybeard was offering his take on the gig to an acquaintance. "Better than the last three times I saw him, when he was doing his jazz stuff. That was hell." "It was alright - I liked the section with 'Raglan Road' and 'Common One'. Can't be doing with 'Days Like This' and 'Precious Time' though." Expecting Van Morrison to be one dimensional seems to me to be an invitation to disappointment. Better just to enjoy the times when he chooses not to be difficult, I think.