Rock stars cope with the endless road in different ways. Bob Dylan meanders around the US, voice shot, playing ragged, unpredictable sets. The Rolling Stones crank up their machine every five years to rake in another $50m. Van Morrison tours almost as much as Dylan and, on the evidence of his 80-minute set on Friday night in Washington Heights, paces himself. Looking sharp yet remote in a black suit, fedora and shades, Morrison rocked gently through an eclectic selection of songs, mixing many from the past decade with 1970s and 1980s classics such as “Moondance” and “Vanlose Stairway”.
The United Palace Theatre, a recently restored 1930s movie palace with gold-encrusted detailing on the walls and ceilings and plush red velvet seats, made for a suitably venerable setting. It has a stately grandeur, and Van Morrison’s 11-piece band aspired to the same condition. Heavy on keyboards and guitars, they lingered over slow blues jams, occasionally vamping up the tempo and taking solos with anguished gazes skywards. At one point, someone played a dulcimer, and Morrison yelled “pluck that thing!” He played brassy sax solos on “Stranded”, then a series of scorching harmonica blasts on “Help Me” that might have been his most piercing moment all night. Finally, there was the inevitable bow to “Gloria” and “Brown Eyed Girl” at the end.
Morrison’s voice is more suited to wallowing amid the mellow pastures of his recent work than to those jumpy early classics. His burnished glow is still there, although gruffness has reduced its dimensions. He works within his limitations, reaching down for growls and tossing off little exclamations and exhortations, and he can still get off a creditable version of the old yelps. He needed help with the howls of “Gloria”, and he got it from the crowd, which sang along with gusto. It’s probably too much to hope for another great album from Van Morrison, but at this pace, he seems eternal.