Morrison brings warmth to the cold space of a socially distanced theatre, leaving aside his anti-lockdown songs for a thrillingly extemporised set
It is different, that’s the first thing. No matter that Van Morrison steers clear of offering his political and scientific analysis of Covid-19 and the government’s handling of it, the shadow of the pandemic hangs over the Palladium for the second of his five shows at the theatre. Social distancing is in place, and plenty of ticket holders have failed to turn up – the seats to be unoccupied are marked, but plenty of the seats designated for bubbles remain empty. And that creates its own problems: much as Morrison has spoken of his preference for smaller audiences, he means small audiences in small rooms, rather than small audiences scattered about very big rooms. And the Palladium stays distinctly chilly, the coldness and emptiness of the place offering no help to his six-piece band.
It’s a measure of Morrison’s indefatigability, then, that even in these circumstances he can touch transcendence. In the middle of the set, a long and loose version of Baby Please Don’t Go – which segues smoothly into Them’s Don’t Start Crying Now and then Got My Mojo Working – sees the band stretching out, and Morrison swapping out his mic to sing through the one for his harmonica. The sound is degraded, distorted, and as Morrison extemporises around the song – barking refrains, scatting, summoning or dispelling memories, whichever it might be – it flies, thrillingly. It’s followed by a glorious St Dominic’s Preview, Dave Keary driving it with a mandolin pattern that gorgeously restrains the song’s swelling emotion.