Brighton Dome, Monday

WE WERE warned about Van. His gruff reputation precedes him.

In the past he’s been panned for disregarding his audience. An Argus editor once spent a gig watching him lurk behind the speakers, only for him to emerge, mumble through a brief number and leave the stage.

Not tonight. Van kept a tight rein on a faultless band and steamed through a glistening set. His voice had the force of a foghorn.

We were treated to bluesy versions of Brown Eyed Girl and Moondance. He even played a request.

That’s not to say the performance was perfect.

As Van and his crisp five-piece band whipped through the repertoire, there was little sense of intimacy or warmth.

There was a glimmer of feeling in an inspired version of St Dominic’s Preview, a stream of consciousness tune in the style of Astral Weeks.

But then Van was back to barge through the blues, quitting the stage long before his band finished a barnstorming version of his hit Gloria.

To keep up with the conveyor belt of tunes, his musicians had to switch between guitars, pianos, organs, and basses in a heartbeat.

In one transition between songs, Van’s peerless percussionist had to turn from patting timpani to picking up sticks and striking the first chord on her vibraphone without missing a beat.

Gig over, the room breathed out a sigh of relief. “That was nothing like when we last saw him,” someone said in the foyer. “You could tell he was up for it this time.”

Seeing Van there in the flesh was half the thrill. 

There wasn’t much of it on show. Decked out in a dark pork pie hat, shades, and an oversized black suit, Van’s head was the only part of him that seemed to move.

It wobbled back and forth like a nodding dashboard bulldog at the end of each phrase, as if kicking back from the force of his own voice.

And boy, what a voice. It’s worth ignoring all the warnings to hear it.

Laurie Churchman