Van Morrison :: Astral Weeks @ Hollywood Bowl

astral-weeks.jpgWhat happens to the bands we love when they don’t call it quits. Ups, downs, break-downs, break-ups, reunions. And then, the backing-band: three back-up singers, too many guitarists, a percussionist. It can all get to be a little too much.

So when Van Morrison played the first night of two at the Hollywood Bowl, those more skeptical could be forgiven for being fearful of the elaborate band set-up, the Silver “VM” welded to the mic stand, and the three microphones on a raised platform in the back. For an hour, the crowd was treated to an array of greatest hits, some obscure hits and very little new material.

Obviously, Van Morrison is not the same man flailing around with The Band ripping through “Caravan” during The Last Waltz. He still shakes, still throws his arms to the beat – but the oddness of his pear-shaped-body in the 70’s is now fully manifested, like an umpire wearing protection pads under his shirt. But if Van hasn’t lost one thing, it is his voice. It’s a bit deeper now – his range is still unmatchable, his emotion incredibly raw and his skating, doo-wahs and repeating lines are still an instrument unto themselves.

As the second set began with a new stage set-up in place, Morrison began the occasion for the night: a full rendition of his hallmark 1968 record — the unparalleled Astral Weeks. To be performed with a couple of the original musicians from the recording, the event closed out the season at the Hollywood Bowl and promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, as, due to budgetary restraints upon the time of its release, the LP had never been performed in its entirety in accordance with Morrison’s vision.

What followed was a moving rendition of the record. True to its core and emotional, but not bound to it’s exact form, Van Morrison chose new replication over new rendition. Playing only one song out of order, the record comes much more alive than its original form in this setting. Even a song which some write off as the weak spot on an eight-song masterpiece (“Beside You”) was moving, jarring even. But, staying true to form, the album never became a loud ruckus – e.g. the staple “Cyprus Avenue” that remained mellow and hearty rather than the version that appeared in his shows following the records release: the rollicking concert-closer.

Astral Weeks has stood the test of time and endured much differently than his singles (“Brown Eyed Girl,” “Domino”) is that it is a sleeping giant. A singular moment of perfection. Clean may be a very a over-used adjective, often with little meaning, fitting for a record with such a wide-array of instruments and arrangements, without a single moment out of place. Soothing, yet genius and complex. The Van Morrison who wrote these abstract love songs and small stories of troubled lovers is the same man now that he was then – full of emotion, with a full belief in the songs he wrote forty years earlier. If anything, the performance Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl proved just that. words/ b kramer

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9 thoughts on “Van Morrison :: Astral Weeks @ Hollywood Bowl

  1. I could not miss this show. I was able to get one fantastic seat to this unbelievable show. I took a 24 hour trip from Memphis. I meet Van fans from England, Austrailia, and Canada. THIS SHOW WAS THE VAN SHOW TO SEE………No new stuff at this show. He played most of the greatest Van songs. He also seemed to be enjoying himself. He was smiling and at one point said “Thank You, You make a happy man very old”

    1st set:
    St. Dominic’s Preview
    It’s All In The Game / You Know What They’re Writing About
    Here Comes The Night
    And The Healing Has Begun
    Summertime In England
    Brown Eyed Girl

    2nd set:
    Astral Weeks
    Beside You
    Slim Slow Slider
    Sweet Thing
    The Way Young Lovers Do
    Cyprus Avenue
    Madame George
    Listen To The Lion (Encore)

    Sorry if you missed this one, the CD/DVD will be a must have.

  2. Here’s what I have to say: Van Morrison is my guru, no religion. I cannot comprehend why he did not visit with us. He did not introduce one song. He did not introduce one member of his band. His voice and performance was much better than I expected, but where was the personality? I know that both nights were being filmed for a DVD, but film editors can do their job.

    Why, was there no dialog?

  3. I think this is possibley the greatest album of all time. The music is stunning in its dynamic range as are Van’s vocals and lyric play. The man was 22 years old when he created this album. It is tantamount to the greatests work of any other artist in any art form.

  4. “Why, was there no dialog?”

    usually he only talks to the crowd to berate them for talking or making requests, so maybe this was a good thing?

    And VanFanfromMemphis heard him say something, so maybe you just missed it.

  5. Most of us who have seen Van over the years put up with his grumbling demeanor and, frankly, find it endearing. How many performers have you heard say, “you are a wonderful audience” or “Hello…Portland”? Not Van, he is strickly business while on stage.

    On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to talk to him on five different occasions after the shows and he is friendly, funny but serious and really smart. Not one much for small talk.

    I just wish I could have gone to LA to see the Hollywood Bowl show.

  6. I did a 24 hour trip from Pittsburgh for this awesome show. I can’t believe I actually almost decided not to go. Van is the man, and made the trip worthwhile. Thanks to the three great ladies who shared my terrace box and shared their incredible cheeses with me.

  7. Expecting Van to make small talk is a little like expecting Angus Young’s school cap to stay on. I’ve been following his touring for the last four years and have been to perhaps ten shows. Some have been spectacular and others merely decent, but he’s always attempting, reaching, improvising, and believing in the music. And that voice .. well what can you say? I suspect that not everybody who caught these Los Angeles shows fully appreciated what was going on, but it sounds like he did indeed soar on occasion. The chance to see his live take on Astral Weeks at this time in his career is unmissable, and I plan on being at Madison Square Garden if I can hustle some tickets. As sublime as this album is, there are days when I’m equally impressed by Veedon Fleece. He’s still operating on another wavelength – not Mr. Congeniality perhaps – but a hell of a talent.

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