All-Star Lineup Honors The Music Of Van Morrison At Carnegie Hall
For the 16th year in a row impresario Michael Dorf held his annual The Music Of benefit tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. Thursday night’s show featured the music of Van Morrison, as 20+ acts set out to put their stamp on material from the influential Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer’s songbook. Over the course of roughly two hours, the depth of Morrison’s catalog was on display as performers reached back to his days with garage-rock act Them to his much-beloved 1970s output up through his 1999 release Back On Top.
While there was clearly a love for the material by all involved, those who put their own flavor or dug a little deeper for selections separated themselves from the pack. Brian Fallon opened the evening. The Gaslight Anthem frontman delivered a straight-ahead take on the latter-era, roots-rock chestnut “High Summer” that fell right into his wheelhouse. The Blind Boys Of Alabama provided an early highlight as they took the sold-out crowd to church with their performance of “By His Grace” from Hymns To The Silence. The legendary vocal group received not one, but two standing ovations for their powerhouse performance.
Late addition Amy Helm teamed with students from Little Kids Rock on “If I Ever Needed Someone.” Helm and a young vocalist shared the lead on the track from His Band And The Street Choir. Both belted out the heartfelt song, as the youngster turned in A Star Is Born-worthy performance. Robert Earl Keen took “Wild Night” to Nashville, flipping the script on the soul-country song by turning it into a country-soul arrangement that featured his fiddler laying down the tune’s famous horns parts.
Josh Ritter and his longtime bass player Zachariah Hickman reached for “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” from the underrated Veedon Fleece. While it might have been one of the shorter songs of the program, Ritter couldn’t have picked a better one, as the duo delivered a sublime rendition of the jazz-tinged number that showcased his vocals and Hickman’s musicality. One of the more unexpected and powerful tributes came from the Resistance Revival Chorus. The vocal group of some 30 women sang Morrison’s “Days Like This,” which became the official anthem of the peace movement in Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s. Dressed in all-white, the chorus did the tune justice and beyond with their uplifting gospel and soul-infused version.
Anderson East also looked to another deeper cut, calling “Purple Heather” from 1973’s overlooked Hard Nose The Highway one his favorite Morrison songs. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter leaned into it with all he had along with the top-notch house band for a barn-burner performance. Valerie June’s quirkiness was on full display for “Sweet Thing.” The Brooklyn via Memphis musician put her indelible mark on the Astral Weeks cut with her Appalachian Nina Simone singing style and unbridled delivery as she danced, stomped and floated across the stage throughout. Glen Hansard, who is no stranger to covering fellow countrymen, took the stage with just his acoustic guitar to play “Astral Weeks.” Hansard got the crowd to sing part of his impassioned version of what has now become one of the best covers of any Morrison songs ever, telling everyone, “when you sing from your heart, you’re never out of tune.”
Patti Smith was tasked with bringing the night to close with her longtime backing band. It was no surprise what Smith would play as she introduced Them’s “Gloria” by saying that she knows that Morrison isn’t a fan. The legendary New York City punk-poet’s performance last night was filled with just as much fire and angst as the original from their debut album. The stage filled for the final chorus for one last blast of love for Morrison and his songs.
Brian Fallon – “High Summer” / The Blind Boys of Alabama – “By His Grace” / Shawn Colvin – “Tupelo Honey” / Marc Cohn w. Shawn Colvin – “Into The Mystic” / Amy Helm w. Little Kids Rock – “If I Ever Needed Someone” / Lee Fields & The Expressions – “And It Stoned Me” / Robert Earl Keen – “Wild Night” / Josh Ritter – “Linden Arden Stole The Highlights” / Resistance Revival Chorus – “Days Like This” / Richard Marx – “Domino” / Anderson East – “Purple Heather” / Valerie June – “Sweet Thing” / Wiliam Elliot Whitmore – “Real Real Gone” / Low Cut Connie – “Here Come The Night” / Bettye LaVette – “Have I Told You Lately” / John Paul White – “You’re My Woman” / David Johansen – “My Lonely Sad Eyes” / The Secret Sisters – “Precise Time” / Todd Rundgren – “Brown Eyed Girl” / Glen Hansard – “Astral Weeks” / Patti Smith – “Gloria”