In a delightful pairing of singers, Tom Jones and Van Morrison delivered a stirring double bill at the Hollywood Bowl. It was the night before the second weekend of Desert Trip, a timely scheduling of another pair of vintage artists.
While initially seen by many as an anachronistic double bill, the Crooner from Cardiff and the Belfast Cosmic Cowboy convinced many that the evening was as satisfying as it was unique.
Tom Jones opened, and his mighty voice was in fine form. He has wisely chosen songs over the last decades that supplement the groovy milieu in which he worked when he entered the music scene. While not eschewing his roots, Jones evinced a solid measure of hipness with thoughtful covers by Randy Newman (a nearly salacious “You Can Leave Your Hat On”), Blind Willie Johnson (a gripping “The Soul of a Man”), Prince (the ‘80’s chestnut “Kiss”) and Leonard Cohen (the stately “Tower of Song”).
But the crowd roared its approval when Jones shifted into his early hits “What’s New Pussycat” and “It’s Not Unusual.”
I have only seen Van Morrison duet onstage once before (in a brilliant move with Solomon Burke in NYC), but when Jones began to reminisce about being in a small London club with so many of the (London-centric) British Invasion posse, the crowd stirred with the possibility of a duet. Indeed, Van Morrison strode out midway into Jones’ set and the singers swung through a medley of songs including “Bring It On Home” and “Good Night Irene.”
As with his duet with Burke, Morrison broke out into a rare smile as he and Jones reduced the glorious Hollywood Bowl to a pub somewhere in the Home Counties.
Van Morrison has been consistently satisfying in concert over the last decade. There were gigs previously that were disappointing. Although he is a decided curmudgeon onstage, less of that demeanor shines through these days. At the Bowl, Morrison was in fine form.
Fortunately missing from his setlist were many of the songs he penned later in his career about how complicated fame has been; he simply doth protest too much. Instead, he celebrated the muse and the arrrgh that has driven him on his decades-long musical journey. The joyous “Wavelength” was a treat, and a song he does not perform often enough. “Here Comes the Night” pulled from his earliest years performing, and it still holds up sturdily.
He blended several songs for the highpoint of his set. “It’s All in the Game” started his medley, with a melody written by Charles Dawes. (This is undoubtedly the rare time when a future US Vice-President’s music is heard onstage).
As Morrison then segued the band into “You Know What They’re Talking About” he sailed smoothly through a steady refrain of “No Plan B,” which essentially represents his commitment to music. “No safety net, this is it” remains his mantra.
Before arriving at the Bowl I contemplated the possibility of a duet from the performers both of whom are now Knights of the British Empire. I was speculating that the song would be “The Green Green Grass of Home” as it seems to straddle the Welsh and Celtic roots of the singers. But on balance I was far happier with what I saw.
Both singers have obviously attained critical success and financial comfort, so the question of why they continue to perform is intriguing. Perhaps they do it for the financial security of their grandkids, and perhaps they do it because they love it.
Regardless, it is gratifying that they can do so.