Van Morrison comes with a mercurial reputation – and he doesn’t come often enough, despite a fervent following in Boston. At his best, the Celtic soul singer channels a mystic spirit, nearly speaking in tongues when he loses himself in his songs. At other times, he can seem more detached and frustrate audiences with his song selection. And it’s easy to muse that, at age 73, his best nights must be behind him.
But Morrison lived up to his mythic billing at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Tuesday (if not the hundreds of dollars per ticket on the resale market for the waterfront venue’s hottest show in a busy summer). Taking the stage exactly on time in his trademark fedora, sunglasses and pinstriped suit, he covered the bases with a sure spread of hits, other favored nuggets and even a surprise or two, backed by a reverentially supportive eight-piece band that even added violin and vibes. If not entirely transcendent, the show found the mostly stoic Morrison in fine voice, clearly invested in the evening and inscrutably himself.
After a dashed-off duet of standard “That Old Black Magic” with daughter Shana, who opened the show, Morrison wasted no time dipping into 1968’s hallowed Astral Weeks (birthed in Cambridge and the subject of a recent book by local musician Ryan Walsh), scatting into “The Way Young Lovers Do” and “Sweet Thing.” But he was just warming up. Manning his alto sax with punctuation, Morrison segued from “Magic Time” into the balled “Have I Told You Lately,” which eased into a swinging buildup and a spritely sax/trumpet tradeoff.
Two tunes from Morrison’s mid-60s band Them lent a surprise jolt, as the singer brandished his harmonica and steered “Baby, Please Don’t Go” into a virtual Sun Records session before dropping into “Here Comes the Night,” his voice purring across that song’s lively bars. Then he dove into the flow of “Cleaning Windows,” ad-libbing into the rockabilly standard “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” and finally brought the crowd to its feet for the “sha-la-la-la” sing-along of “Wild Night.” It was already one of those for the Van faithful – and the show was only 40 minutes old.
From there, Morrison relaxed a bit within the folds of the band, imitating a vinyl skip in “Broken Record,” and donning an electric guitar for relative rarity “Vanlose Stairway” and an emotive cover of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” complete with pedal-steel solo. And yes, fans returned to their feet — if frustratingly to the obvious — for the jazzy “Moondance” and “Brown-Eyed Girl,” with house lights up for its “sha-la-la-la” sing-along. The same reaction greeted a predictable encore of “Gloria,” yet Morrison didn’t mail in that classic, navigating the feeling in each line before he gestured credit to the musicians and left the stage for the last time after nearly 90 minutes. The band impressively vamped and soloed (with glances over the shoulder) for another 10 minutes, but the Belfast Cowboy had left the building.