VAN MORRISON – …It’s Too Late to Stop Now… Volumes II, III, IV & DVD (Legacy/Sony): What follows sounds like a long series of complaints, but I swear it isn’t. Or, at least, it’s only a series of half-complaints. Here we go: this collection is forty-five songs spread across three discs (& DVD—woohoo), though there’s a lot of repetition—not just alternate performances of songs that appeared on the original It’s Too Late to Stop Now, but multiple performances of the same songs. For instance, fourteen of the eighteen songs from the original (or fifteen of eighteen if you have the CD reissue with “Brown Eyed Girl” as a bonus track) appear here, often multiple times: “Bring It on Home to Me” (Disc 1), “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Listen to the Lion,” “Caravan,” “Cyprus Avenue” (Disc 1 and 3), “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” “I’ve Been Working,” “Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket,” “Gloria” (Disc 2), “Into the Mystic,” “I Believe to My Soul,” “Domino” (Disc 2 and 3), “Wild Children,” “Here Comes the Night” (Disc 3), and “Brown Eyed Girl.” Then there are the songs not on the original but still repeated: “Bein’ Green,” “Since I Fell for You,” “I Paid the Price,” “Buona Sera,” and “Sweet Thing.” So of forty-five songs, twenty-three aren’t on the original, and only thirteen of those aren’t repeated.
On top of that, neither performance of “Domino” tops 1974’s. The Latin pop standard “Buona Sera” sticks out like a sore thumb (both times) against the stream of r&b and blues. Too often Van the Man lets the audience sing the title of “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” No one disc is as good as the original It’s Too Late to Stop Now.
But you know what? Nice as volumes like A Night in San Francisco are, they never measure up to the performances a much young Van gave. Pushing fifty when he recorded that volume in late 1993, already his voice had weathered with age, and his band—spit and polished as they were—was a machine, not the fluid, eager, eleven-piece Caledonia Soul Orchestra that was in sync with Van Morrison’s every move and inflection when the shows that appear on these volumes were recorded. Listen, for example, to the difference between “I’ve Been Working” on A Night and San Francisco and the one on Volume III. On the first it’s a whirlwind Van races to catch up with, a performance preplanned and rehearsed to a science, whereas on Volume III the band responds to the rhythm he sets, sneaks in little responses to the jabs he takes. Like the black music he loves so much, Van does his best to let out the lion, doing James Brown proud in proving himself a capable band leader, the Caledonia Soul Orchestra adapting perfectly to every increasingly speedy incantation, each soft retreat into a whisper, all the roars and howls and croons and swoons the man of the hour makes. They were easily the best band Van Morrison ever assembled, and one of the finer touring bands in pop history.
The repetition can be a bit tiresome, yes—especially if you make a marathon of the collection and listen to them in succession—but it’s fortunate the performances exist at all. While the first volume saved “Warm Love” from the most uneven of Van Morrison’s first wave of studio albums, this new collection salvages “Snow in San Anselmo” and the title track, as well as his interpretations of “Purple Heather” and “Bein’ Green.” And for three shows recorded on the same tour, how diverse of a setlist could anyone expect? That we get this much diversity is a blessing. This was Van Morrison at his peak, Astral Weeks and Moondance and His Band and the Street Choir and St. Dominic’s Preview and Tupelo Honey all under his belt by the age of twenty-eight, with these performances the crown jewel of his achievements, testament that he is not only one of pop’s greatest artists, but one of its best entertainers.
Oh, and as for the DVD that’s included—no, I haven’t seen it. But I imagine you’ll enjoy it as often as all those other concert DVDs you own. A