Sunday 16 December 2018

Review: Van Morrison and Robert Plant at Blues Fest Dublin are like poetry in motion

Van Morrison
Van Morrison
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

There was a ‘whole lotta love’ at Blues Fest last night.

To my surprise, there is one man who unites the north and south of Ireland, with tremendous applause. Every seat was occupied before 7.30pm and I was surrounded by the northern lilt of all the fans who travelled across ‘no border’ to see Van the Man in Dublin.

Not that Van Morrison needs a review, but here goes. Everything went perfectly well, just a few seconds of feedback which he dealt with efficiently. Poised in his gangster style sparkly pinstripe suit and trilby, his throaty vibe had the audience hooked from ‘Days Like This.’

What really sparked the evening was his duets with Dana Masters, sounding like Aretha Franklin, crooning ‘Sometimes We Cry’ and ‘Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid.’ The glittery vibes of xylophone and Cuban style hand drums came from Teena Morcombe [flashing her tiara].

As someone who has never seen Van Morrison live, I found that the timbre of his voice has not changed from decades ago when we were all into ‘Tupelo Honey’. During the interval a N.I. woman turned to me and said she was speechless. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘That was the best I’ve ever seen.’ She had been to multiple concerts, and apparently Van was at this most content last night. Times change for everyone.

Paul Moran on piano and Hammond organ made the gospel jazz sound impeccable. The combination of trumpet and sax players, Dave Keary on guitar, Paul Moore on bass, Mez Clough on drums gave a real Rat Pack sound to songs converted from rock to jazz, like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, ‘Real Real Gone’. Van gave us 23 songs, the biggest cheer came for ‘Moondance’ and he thrilled the audience with several encores and music from his new studio album ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, which is released next month.

The Dublin Blues Fest is dovetailed with the London Blues Fest and we were here to see two men in their [early] seventies who had played at the O2 the night before. It had been 50 years since Robert Plant first shared the stage with Van Morrison, and here they were lighting up Dublin. The very fit and curly-haired Plant took to the stage in a burgundy silk shirt and long legged leather trousers, rocking the arena, with ‘Ramble it On’ and shouting ‘C’mon Dublin, ‘Turn it Up.’

In respect for the band, many men in the audience turned up in long ponytails and beards, particularly pairing with Skin Tyson who performed an amazing combination of finger picking acoustic and Spanish classic guitar.

Though Robert Plant is best known for his Led Zeppelin era, he says he is influenced by black America, and cited Buck White, Sonny Boy Williams, Lead Belly and many others as his inspiration. The group on stage, known as The Sensational Shape Shifters combine legendary Led Zeppelin numbers with Plant’s creative interest in immigrant communities.

The group has been evolving for 18 years, playing a combination of African tribal sound, Asian sitar-sounding guitar riffs, classic rock and some folk-like tunes. Last night they included keyboardist John Baggott (Massive Attack), drummer John Blease, bassist Billy Fuller, guitarist Justin Adams, and country fiddle with Seth Lakeman, with a setlist including Black Dog, May Queen, Rain Song, California, Gallows Pole, Carry Fire, Babe, Little Maggie, Fixin’ to Die, Levees, New World, and of course ‘Whole Lotta Love.’

Both Blues Fest performances were like poetry in motion, art of the guitar, art of the musician, art of the frontman.

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