Here Comes The Night: Songs From The Van Morrison Songbook (Featuring Joe Camilleri With Vince Jones, Vika Bull)
THE PALAIS, MELBOURNE
SATURDAY JUNE1, 2013
Reviewed by Brian Wise
“This seems weird,” said Joe Camilleri, a few songs into his tribute to Van Morrison. “But I hope you enjoy it.”
Indeed, it might have been strange for a musician who has his own substantial catalogue of songs to perform almost an entire concert of someone else’s songs but the two artists concerned do have a few things in common that made the evening a splendid homage rather than a mere collection of cover songs and slavish imitation.
Born less than three years apart, both Morrison and Camilleri began their music careers in the ‘60s – the former recording and achieving commercial success a few years ahead of the latter. They are still performing and recording. Both achieved initial success in R&B bands and neither musician has moved too far away from the R&B/soul genres. Both sing and play saxophone and their voices have retained their warmth as they have matured.
Not only that, Camilleri has recorded several of Morrison’s song over the years and, occasionally, seems to be almost able to channel Morrison’s style. Finally, as Morrison has done in the past, Camilleri is not entirely averse to sharing the stage with other singers. (For this evening, the guests were Vince Jones and Vika Bull).
There have been many ‘tribute’ shows here recently: some of them in theatres with associated dialogue such as The Man In Black, Grevious Angel: The Legend of Gram Parsons and The Etta James Story. None of them have come quite as close to capturing the spirit of the artist in question as Camilleri’s tribute – perhaps because he has not had to try so hard to emulate Morrison’s style.
As Camilleri noted on the night, everyone has their own ‘song list’ when it comes to Morrison’s catalogue. “I hope yours has some of the same songs as mine,” he added. It seem difficult to please most Morrison fans but the fact that the evening leant heavily on material from the ‘60s and ‘70s was a fairly astute judgment of the era held in greatest affection by most of the audience. It was pretty much a case of giving the people what they wanted.
However, if you scan Morrison’s catalogue, the strength of his writing can be judged by the fact that one could easily compile an equally good set list from the songs not included in the twenty-seven selections here. This occasion offered an overview of part of Morrison’s career with Camilleri playing the part of a ‘happy Van’ – something we have not seen in Australia. On his last visit here in 1985 Morrison spent most of his shows with his back to the audience and said nothing. Tonight we had the version of the man we always wanted to see here.
‘Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart’ might not have been on the top of the audiences’ list but it opened the show and seemed to encapsulate the fact that Camilleri felt it better to let the songs do the talking. It turned out to be a smart choice.
If the opening song was reflective, the mood changed with ‘Jackie Wilson Said’ (St Dominic’s Preview) and ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ (also a hit for Camilleri’s Black Sorrows). These were followed by enthusiastic versions of ‘Wavelength’ and the ‘Dweller On The Threshold’ (Beautiful Vision, 1982)
The musicians included long-time Camilleri associate Jeff Burstin on guitar, along with guitarist Stuart Fraser, drummer Angus Burchill and Steve Hadley on bass. These players were augmented by a three-piece horn section, two backing vocalists and the Silo String Quartet. It was an ensemble that could handle most of the songs with ease.
‘Cypress Avenue’ introduced Vince Jones who continued on his own for an excellent reading of ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ from Astral Weeks, along with its title song and ‘And It Stoned Me.’ Vika Bull then tackled ‘Into The Mystic’ but was even better on the bluesy ‘You’ve Got To Make It Through The World’ from the 1977 A Period In Transition album. Camilleri then returned to the stage for ‘Wild Night’ ‘ Caravan’ and a rousing version of ‘Gloria.’
The format continued after a 20-minute interval with Camilleri tackling four songs before handing over to his guests. The up tempo ‘Domino’ and ‘Bright Side Of The Road’ contrasted with a lovely ‘Irish Heartbeat’ and ‘Moondance.’
If there was a discordant note it might have been with Vince Jones’ jazzy treatment of ‘Cleaning Windows’ from 1982’ Beautiful Vision that didn’t quite capture the rhythm of the original as he seemed to sing against the band. However, immediately afterwards Jones provided the highlight of the night with a stunning rendition of ‘I’ll Be Your Lover, Too’ from 1970’s His Band & Street Choir. Not only did Jones nail the song with his vocals floating gloriously above the music but also perfectly captured the feeling, making it almost on a par with the original.
Vika Bull’s interpretations of ‘Days Like This’ and ‘Crazy Love’ were pleasant but one has the feeling that there are other more R&B oriented songs in Morrison’s catalogue with which she would excel.
Camilleri then offered ‘Have I Told You Lately?’ and ‘Tupelo Honey,’ exploiting the sax to best effect and closed the show with rousing versions of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘I’ve Been Working’ with his guests on stage. The encore, with just the basic band, featured the song that gave its title to the evening, ‘Here Comes The Night’.
It was interesting to contrast Camilleri’s energetic and passionate performance with Renee Geyer’s erratic and indifferent show at Hamer Hall just a few nights earlier. No one will ever accuse Camilleri of not putting one hundred per cent effort into every show.
If Camilleri revelled in the chance to assume the role of one of his musical heroes, the enthusiastic audience at the sold out show shared that enjoyment across the generous two and a quarter hours of music. Rumour has it that Van Morrison vowed never to return to Australia if that is the case then this show (which is to go on tour in November) is probably the closest Australian audiences will get to hearing him perform!
1. Inarticulate Speech of The Heart
2. Jackie Wilson Said
3. Brown Eyed Girl
5. Dweller On The Threshold
6. Cypress Avenue (with Vince Jones)
7. The Way Young Lovers Do (Vince Jones)
8. Astral Weeks (Vince Jones)
9. And It Stoned Me (Vince Jones)
10. Into The Mystic (Vika Bull)
11. You’ve Got To Make It Through The World (Vika Bull)
12. Wild Night
16. Bright Side Of The Road
17. Irish Heartbeat
19. Cleaning Windows (Vince Jones)
20. I’ll Be Your Lover Too (Vince Jones)
21. Days Like This (Vika Bull)
22. Crazy Love (Vika Bull)
23. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You
24. Tupelo Honey
25. Baby Please Don’t Go (Ensemble)
26. I’ve Been Working (Ensemble)
27. Here Comes The Night