Music DVD Reviews: Review of Van Morrison: Live at Montreux

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Buy your copy from Van Morrison: Live at Montreux 1980/1974 starstarstarstarstarLabel: Eagle Eye Media
Released: 2006

The latest installment in a series that already includes titles devoted to a wide array of performers, this two-disc set marks, unbelievably, Van Morrison’s official live DVD debut. Long overdue? Absolutely. But he picked a pretty good place to start.

A lot of viewers will probably go into this more excited about the earlier set; very loosely speaking, conventional wisdom says Morrison was near the peak of his powers in ’74, while his post-’79 output is widely regarded as spotty. The pleasant surprise here is that the 1980 set is not only longer, but tighter and more expansive than its earlier counterpart.

Never exactly a prizewinning stage presence, Morrison had been dealing with stage fright for years by the time these performances were recorded, and it shows – he doesn’t interact with the audience at all, or even so much as crack a smile throughout the two sets. (In fact, toward the end of the ’74 show, in a beautiful display of churlishness, he walks away from his microphone and turns his back on the crowd to have a prolonged discussion with the band.) This is par for the course with Morrison; the main question facing a ticket buyer isn’t whether he’ll be friendly, but whether he’ll bother putting on a good show.

He does here, of course – on both discs, which is why they’re being released – the main difference between the two being his choice of personnel. For the ’74 show, Morrison committed without a band, relying on festival organizer Claude Nobs to assemble one for him, and the result was a short, jammy, more blues-oriented set whose arguable highlight is a charged reading of “Naked in the Jungle.”

For the 1980 concert, Morrison showed up with a larger band, including a stellar horn section featuring Pee Wee Ellis and Mark Isham, two drummers (one of whom, Peter Van Hooke, would later go on to be wasted in Mike & the Mechanics), and a fantastic set list. Isham and Ellis, in particular, elevate the proceedings; this set’s performances of “And It Stoned Me,” “Spirit,” and “Satisfied,” among others, are some of the best on record.

The sound and video are impressively crisp, given their age; the surround mixes are particularly impressive, more than enough to make up for the periodic burps in the ’74 show’s footage. And the best part? The whole thing is priced to sell, at less than $15 for both DVDs. The chance to see a rock & roll legend in his prime, for this kind of money, is something you really have to look for reasons not to take.

~Jeff Giles