One of the 20th century's most revered musicians performing a gig at Ireland's biggest arena in celebration of his 70th birthday year? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, when it's Van Morrison that you're talking about, quite a lot. The Belfast man has always been the sort of musician to confound expectations and do whatever the hell he wants, stoking the flames of his curmudgeonly persona in the process. Having achieved 'legendary' status a long time ago, that is entirely his prerogative, of course.

Taking the stage just after 8pm with a superb backing band in tow, Morrison – in his usual sharp-suited, sunglasses and hat attire – launches into a jazzy rumble on saxophone for 'Celtic Swing' and 'Close Enough for Jazz'. It's the overarching theme of the night; despite the early stage time and the milestone birthday, this is to be no greatest hits show and instead an odyssey through the jazz and blues-tinged material of his back catalogue.

It goes without saying that the audience respond most loudly to the songs that they can sing along to. 'Days Like This' and 'Sometimes We Cry' are early crowd-pleasers; amid the likes of the laidback 'Talk is Cheap', a blues medley kicked off with 'Baby Please Don't Go' gets toes tapping. Morrison's voice is still a remarkable instrument, effortlessly powerful on every song. The only problem is that it seems he isn't particularly in the mood to indulge his audience. There is no 'Moondance' or 'Madame George'; no 'Bright Side of the Road' or 'And It Stoned Me'. Heck, as cheesy as they are, even tracks like 'Have I Told You Lately' may have opened up the dialogue between performer and audience a little. 

Instead, as the gig slowly winds down with a couple of covers and comes to a complete end by 9:45pm, the audience file out into the chilly night air feeling more than a little baffled that things are over so soon. The setlist may have worked a treat in a smaller venue, but most artist that play the 3Arena understand that there needs to be some sort of compromise for the big gigs. Morrison remains as resolutely self-regarding on that front as he has always been. In other words, you almost expect it of him - but it's still a little disappointing when it happens.


Photo: Getty