Van was in terrific form Saturday. Some surprises and highlights for me:
- I haven't heard Caravan live in years. In the middle he says, "Aren't there supposed to be strings here?" Then they get it together and play the string break. Great to hear one of my all time favorite songs return.
- In honor of Richie Buckley's return, Van skips the whole first part of Summertime and launches right into an extended call and response with Richie. Fun and surprising.
- An extended and beautiful All in the Game workshop.
- He really seemed to be into the Astral Weeks portion. As was mentioned about the first night, no sign of Richard Davis. However, David Hayes really carried the ball. The bass pulse is so important to this music and Hayes sounded gorgeous.
- Van moves on to something new (and old) again. Recreating Astral Weeks after 37 years turns out to be a stroke of genius. I loved it all, but especially a drawn out, playful Ballerina.
I'm sure others will add a set list and their own highlights. Not much filler in these shows, except arguably BEG and Gloria. I did hear one couple on the way out saying it was a "mediocre" concert because he "didn't even play 2 of his most famous songs." I'm guessing maybe Moondance and Domino. Who knows?
Washington Post - Tim Page
Van Morrison, Re-Exploring The Mystery of His 'Astral' Vision
Monday, November 10, 2008; Page C01
LOS ANGELES -- It's always a risky venture for seasoned musicians to revisit the works of their youth. One recalls with dismay the Velvet Underground's "reunion" tour in the early 1990s, and Brian Wilson's live 2002 rerecording of the Beach Boys' 1966 song cycle "Pet Sounds" took a radiant and guileless expression of the heart and smothered it in Vegas cheese.
At age 63, Van Morrison has been a working musician for nearly half a century, during which time he has released some 30 albums of original material. And yet it is the very first recording over which he had any artistic control -- "Astral Weeks," released by Warner Bros. in 1968 -- that remains his masterpiece. Aching, haunted, entranced, obsessed, "Astral Weeks" combines bardic, allusive lyrics; jazz, folk and blues stylings and Morrison's own brand of two-chord minimalism. There is, quite literally, nothing else like it.
And so it was with some trepidation that devoted listeners gathered at the Hollywood Bowl Friday night to hear what was billed as Morrison's first-ever live performance of the entire "Astral Weeks," complete with two of the musicians -- bassist Richard Davis and guitarist Jay Berliner -- who worked with him on the album 40 years ago.
We needn't have worried. To be sure, there were slight differences (in the most notable structural change, he moved the almost unbearably desolate album closer, "Slim Slow Slider," to earlier in the set, and finished with the marginally more cheerful "Madame George") but it was still recognizably -- triumphantly-- "Astral Weeks."
What a paradox this work is: an exploration of emotional healing that never forgets, minimizes or smoothes over the original wounds, an opulently poetic expression of near-autistic inarticulation. Once, in the course of denying that "Madame George" was about a transvestite, Morrison nevertheless admitted that he hadn't "a clue what that song is about." He compared the songs on "Astral Weeks" to short stories: "In terms of what they mean, they're as baffling to me as to anyone else."
Igor Stravinsky famously said that he was not the composer of "The Rite of Spring" but rather the vessel through which it passed; without taking the comparison too far, I might suggest a similar process with Morrison and "Astral Weeks." It stands alone in his catalogue: With the possible exception of the two longest tracks on "St. Dominic's Preview" (1972), Morrison never visited this particular, fiercely reiterative musical territory again.
As it happened, Morrison also performed "St. Dominic's Preview" on Friday night, as well as his two biggest hits, "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Moondance"; the primordial punk rocker "Gloria" (a fun singalong); and a generous portion of another of his best albums, "Into the Music" (1979), in the first half of the program, before intermission. The rest of the evening was devoted to the eight songs of "Astral Weeks." Throughout the whole set, he was terrific -- engaged, nuanced, generous and seemingly tireless in his vocalizing, while offering the occasional masterly saxophone or harmonica solo as lagniappe. The band backed him to the hilt -- a delicious jam on "Ballerina" -- although the sound of Davis's bass was nowhere near so prominent as it is on the original album, where it provides the pulse for everything that follows.
The concert, repeated Saturday night, was recorded for release on CD and DVD by Morrison's own company. Roughly a dozen musicians shared the stage, including three female backup singers for the first half of the show, as well as a flute player and a small string section.
Any number of records released in 1968 outsold "Astral Weeks" many times over, but it never quite went out of print. And year after year, devotees passed on copies to new listeners with evangelical fervor, so that its legion of admirers is unusually multigenerational. Which prompts the question: How is it possible for something to mean so much to so many people without anybody, including its creator, able to say exactly what that meaning is? And how does Van Morrison take this strange motley of seemingly unrelated vignettes -- topics include voyeurism, mortal illness, urban grime and (if Morrison is not to be believed) a party of drag queens -- and make it both unified and curiously holy?
"The poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully," Wallace Stevens, who knew something about such matters, once observed. For 40 years, listeners have been finding their own understandings of "Astral Weeks." May it resist, renew and reward us forever.
L.A. Weekly - Randall Roberts
The second night of Van Morrison's revisit of his classic 1968 album Astral Weeks was a bit looser, a bit less immediate and, well, not as great as the first night. Don't get me wrong: the audience was more excitable on Saturday, standing to dance for "Brown Eyed Girl," shouting along the spelling of G - L - O - R - Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-I - A" and pretty much acting like this were a Saturday night Van Morrison show at the Hollywood Bowl. But Morrison seemed less present, less enthusiastic, less targeted. On Friday, he and his band didn't miss a goddamned note. On Saturday, they missed a few.
But BFD is what I say. It was only by being able to measure one show alongside the other that I'm able to make that lame-o judgment. It was still a treat, still lush, organic and filled with beauty. I just didn't float the way that I did Friday night.
The stars came out, for sure: spotted in the crowd was Angelica Huston looking totally MILFy, Will Ferrell, Orlando Bloom, Jenna Fischer, Julia Roberts, and, I'm 85 percent sure, Harvey Weinstein. I say 85 percent because I stood next to this man who I'm pretty sure was Weinstein in front of the ivy wall during the show. He was dancing and smiling and singing along (which Is why that 15 percent doubt is there). He saw my backstage pass and said, "You got another one of those?" I politely said, No, and his response -- hence the 85 percent certainty -- was: "It's all right. I've been back there like a hundred times." It was a funny answer, delivered to impress. I was.