Friday, January 23, 2015

Van Morrison 26: A Night In San Francisco

Right on schedule, another decade meant another live album from Van Morrison. A Night In San Francisco returns to the “show band and revue” mold of It’s Too Late To Stop Now, replacing the sweat with polish. His big band is bolstered by special guests, and each song tends to meander into quotes from other songs, some listed on the back cover, others buried within the individual credits. Georgie Fame is still prominent in the mix, as is a young vocalist named Brian Kennedy. More on him later.
Beginning with a sprightly “Did Ye Get Healed?”, he runs roughshod through “It’s All In The Game” before introducing special guest Candy Dulfer for “I’ve Been Working” and “I Forgot That Love Existed”, the latter quoting from “All Along The Watchtower” just at the end. “Vanlose Stairway” gets an excellent reading, despite too many backup singers echoing his every word. One of those is Brian Kennedy, who gets to sing most of “You Make Me Feel So Free” by himself, and duets with Van’s daughter Shana on “Beautiful Vision”. Van comes back and somehow takes “See Me Through” into a repetitive segment about soldiers of fortune and chain gangs, and into a decidedly funk-free “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. A cover of “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” makes up for it. A couple of blues medleys are an excuse to drag Jimmy Witherspoon and Junior Wells out, before Brian Kennedy sings most of “Tupelo Honey” by himself. “Moondance” is played straight, with plenty of soloing, and wandering through “My Funny Valentine”.
That would be enough for one album, but there’s still another disc to go. Georgie Fame leads the band through “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid” before Van pulls “It Fills You Up” out of mothballs. “I’ll Take Care Of You” (which closed the last album) is stretched out to 16 minutes via “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”. The emcee baits the crowd at the end, and the virtual encore is another long track using “Lonely Avenue” as a launch pad, quoting from other songs by Sly Stone, Roy Orbison and Van himself along the way, plus another appearance by Jimmy Witherspoon. “So Quiet In Here” makes a rough switch to Sam Cooke’s “That’s Where It’s At”. “In The Garden” is taken at about twice the original speed, wanders into “Real Real Gone” and has Brian Kennedy singing “You Send Me”. He also sings most of “Have I Told You Lately”, the crowd cheering Van when he returns to finish it. Finally, “Shakin’ All Over” moves into “Gloria” by way of a minute-long cameo by John Lee Hooker.
There is an awful lot of music here, and they seem to have captured a good night. Unfortunately, it’s an exhausting listen, particularly if you’re not a fan of Brian Kennedy, and would much rather hear Van sing his own songs. A Night In San Francisco is not the type of thing you’ll play often, just because of how long it takes to get through it all.

Van Morrison A Night In San Francisco (1994)—3
2008 CD reissue: same as 1994, plus 1 extra track

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