Wednesday, January 31, 2007

TheBandDrove VanHard

oh my god, that title is annoying, but i had to go there (try saying it fast)...

so Rich Shapero is not as much of a concern now. he sparked much spirited discussion over the weekend though. that's not to say you shouldn't report back to me w/ "Wild Animus" findings.

i'm thinking about Van Morrison. John posted a li'l while ago about "Veedon Fleece," a weirdly titled release from 1974. i'd owned this puppy on vinyl for a good spell, but had never really dug into it. over the past few days--after being prompted by my friend and former bandmate Tom, who had dl'd the thing via John's site--i've been wading in and i've been real happy.

i, like every other human, am obsessed w/ "Astral Weeks," and this one is clearly related, if much, much mellower. "Astral Weeks" is uber-mellow, but it's sort of fraught with desire and such; this one is more contented, jazzy, laid-back, not as much about the ecstatic release. but there's still this sense of just sort of riffing on one idea and traveling with it. the pieces on "Veedon Fleece" seem more like vamps to me than songs; the band just plays this one pattern and Van will sort of move through and around it as he pleases. the music plays the straight man or something. i don't know these pieces that well yet, but this is my first impression.

as with any time i think of Van--who at times (perhaps my most lucid and rational ones) i have called my favorite singer of all time--i think about Van and the Band--who at times i have called my favorite band of all time. anyway, their barely documented partnership is one of the most sublime musical phenomena there is. the two instances i can think of are "Caravan," from "The Last Waltz," and "4% Pantomime" from "Cahoots."

now the former is fucking classic--always will be. the video
() is something you need to see if you haven't--a) for Morrison's sick-ass track-suit-style onesie and b) for his vertically challenged roundhouse air-kicks near the end. also the performance itself is ridick, esp. the part in the second verse when he growls "Turn up yr rahdio / So we can get down to what's really wrong, really wrong, really wrong..."--a true WTFx1000 moment in the annals of classic rock.

but that is really just the Band backing Van Morrison. "4% Pantomime" is a true collaboration, a duet between Richard Manuel and Van where they really feed off each other and just summon this steamroller of drunken revelry. it's a super-odd, rambling, free-form tune, one that took me quite a while to appreciate, but that is now firmly fixed in my pantheon.

lyrically, it's superweird. first of all, the singers address each other by name, or at least moniker, i.e., Van sings, "Oh, Richard," while Richard goes, "Oh, Belfast cowboy"--how fucking awesome is that? the song seems to start as this sort of lament re: the lifestyle of the performing musician; in that classic wounded, sardonic way of his, Manuel sings, "The management said they were sorry, for the inconvenience you were suffering / And mister booking agent, please have mercy--don't book the jobs so far apart." then there's a lot of talk about poker and a bunch of nice gambling metaphors and whatnot.

the real jewel of the song for me though is Van's delivery in the second verse--the dude goes into this crazy asymmetrical cadence that sounds totally stream-of-consciousness: "Dealer's been dealing me bad hands / From the bottom of the deck / Without the slightest blush / And I don't know whether to call or check / But right now I've got a royal flush...." so he enunciates every syllable in "From the bottom of the deck" in this really forceful staccato way and then speeds up as he approaches "I don't know whether to call or check" and slurs into that phrase and then he gets sort of tripped up on the "right" of "right now," so it sounds like "right-a now." i've rewound this thing countless times, and all i can say--and maybe this is a cop out, but i really really mean it--is that it's like a jazz horn player. it's just him experimenting with phrasing in a whimsical, joyous, off-the-top-of-his-head way. it's some without-a-net shit, i'm telling you and it continues into the second part of the verse--it really sounds like he's rapping.

also look out for when Levon does this corny cymbal crash in the first verse to accent Richard's line "We went up to Griffith Park with a fifth of Johnny Walker Red / And smashed it on a rock [crash!] and wept / While the old couple looked on into the dawn [i think he says "dawn"]."

the pleasures of this performance are myriad, legion, fucking transcendent. Van rambling, "It's a full house tonight / Everybody in town is a loser / Yeah, you bet"; it goes on and on. goddamn, dude. anyway, please enjoy and cherish...

The Band with Van Morrison - 4% Pantomime


Anonymous said...

ah, I just figured out the title, that IS pretty good. listening to AW for the first time as we speak, it's also 'pretty good'

and, hi Tom!

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