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VAN MORRISON - LIVE - THE PERFORMANCES



2009-02-27

last public update: Friday, 09-Apr-2021 15:38:45 CEST
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Source
www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/van-morrisonrsquos-astral-weeks-live,670898.shtml on 07JAN2009
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Art
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Quicky setlist and some random thoughts. My notes are a little garbled, so I might have left a song out. The first set was phenomenal, especially because of the unusual song selection. This time around the full Astral Weeks set band, including Jay Berliner and all the strings played on the first set as well as the second.

1. A lone spotlight comes up on Van at the piano. As he plays the band come onstage, takes positions, and plays Northern Muse( Solid Ground), with the Ladies Choice verse at the end.
2. Glad Tidings .. from New York, of course. The audience is still rushing to be seated (the show started right on time), so the part about coming in right on time was fitting. Long, extended ending with chorus.
3. T.B. Sheets. Nothing compares to the original recording. Van is chatty at this point, saying that after he recorded this Bert Berns asked the engineer to play him back the "dungeon music". Tony Fitzgibbon did a spine-tingling, quivery solo when Van sang about the TB chills. He's this band's Most Valuable Player. Van did a great vocal turn when the "sunlight through the windowpane NUMBS MY BRAIN...
4. As promised "Who Drove the Red Sports Car", a very unusual, sort of unstructured song that is closer to stream of consciousness than anything else from that era. This moved into a gospely part where Bianca Thornton did some fine backup singing. (Sarah J. was not in the backup chorus this time around, replaced with someone else. Roger Kellaway was also missing, with Paul Moran taking over all keyboard duties. Ended with that Ray Charles riff from "Fool For You" about giving the blues to the neighbor next door.
5. Stoned Me
6. St. James Infirmary
7. Caravan (got the biggest hand so far from the crowd)
8. Comfortably Numb (Bianca lead vocals). Another big crowd pleaser. Platania played a loud, stinging solo.
9. Mystic Eyes > Gloria. Walkin' through the old graveyard, with freaky harmonica. A great perfornance. I thought he might stretch it out and find an ending for it, but he segued into Gloria.
10. Common One (as the heart of Summertime in England is now known). Richie Buckley showed off on this one, responding vocally in one part to Van's vocals, then instrumentally as he matched sax riffs to Van's vocals and guitar later.

1. Astral Weeks
2. Beside You
3. Sweet Thing
4. The Way Young Lovers Do (Sarah's only appearance in this set?)
4. Cyprus Avenue (guitar craziness: the first one was inaudible and the replacement one was out of tune...Van gave up on it and finished without guitar).
5. Madame George (without the "get on the train" that was so great in Hollywood. Terry Adams does great work on the cello at the beginning of this.
6. Ballerina. What a great song. Tony F. does another great solo that was channeling the spirit of the original recording without imitation. Van looked up into the lights and slapped his left cheek when "the light..is on the left side of your head".
7. Slim Slow Slider. Fine song, but worked live much better in the 3 position. Too much of a downtempo downer to end the show.

Encore:

Listen to the Lion.

Overall impression. Astral Weeks sets at Hollywood were better overall than this one. First set here was on a par or better than those at Hollywood.
Problems with technical stuff will probably not recur tomorrow. I predict a better show.

suggestions: Restore Mme George to the end spot. Give Jay Berliner more solos.

On the cue sheet, but not played: Spirit, Baby Please Don't Go, I'll Be Your Lover Too (!), All in The Game > You Know.., Brown Eyed Girl.
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Dan
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As expected, Friday night's first set was completely different from the Bowl shows.
The show started with the spotlight illuminating Morrison alone at the piano, playing the opening chords to Northern Muse, getting right to the beauty from the getgo as he invoked the Muse moving through the County Down, spreading light all around. The band slowly joined in a very sweet affecting version of the tune.
Glad Tiding got the requisite crowd recognition at the New York reference, but it's hard to top the absolute la la la la joy of the studio version.
who drove the red sports car: Van and the band did in a bluesy workout with gospel accents.
And it stoned me was a nice choice but Van bounced through it in pretty predictable fashion.
My favorite of the first set was an exquisite "So Quiet in Here." long and languid and extremely comforting. the free-flowing astral weeks set wound its way through a surreal landscape with a raw, rugged beauty. morrison and his soul-jazz-folk orchestral ensemble could not have been more in the moment,negotiating white water, rapids and stretches of clear calm solace.
the wamu is not my favorite venue. the sound can be spotty and some of the side seats up front provide a strange wide angle view of the stage, making the experience that much more otherwordly and trance like.
Van often would sing off mike, sometimes standing what seemed like 5 or 6 feet away, emoting and wailing to the rafters.
the crowd was with him all the way, which allowed for much subtle singing and strong dynamics. Morrison would sometimes leap for notes, re-entering the song with that sweet yelp of his.
the astral weeks material was fresh and involving, evoking its own set of emotions distinct from the hollywood bowl sets.
that is, and always will be, morrison's genius.
a harmonica fueled sweet thing sailed like a kite, lifting spirits high.
ballerina produced a similar effect, Van taking his time and letting the performance breathe beautifully.
The harmonica solo in the encore Listen to the Lion was a joyous proclamation, and the climbing, descending guitar runs at its
conclusion, which I believe were by the amazing Jay Berliner, were sublime.
Tony Fitzgibbon on violin again deserves special mention, creating awesome swirls of notes.
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Anthony
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I know Van Morrison has a mixed reputation for his concerts. He has deserved it, but over the past three years he has been fairly consistent, always delivering an evening of great singing with a top notch in-the-groove band.

Last night, Friday Feb 27th, at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in NYC, was one of the best Van Morrison concerts I have ever seen. He played for a little over 2 hours, and his voice is, amazingly, better than ever. And the WaMu Theater (which was originally the old Felt Forum) is a pretty decent venue. Large, but the sightlines are all good and all on one level, no balconies. Even though we were in the last eight rows, we felt a part of the night, not lost in the bleachers.

For those who do not know, these shows have been touting two distinct sections: a complete run through of the Astral Weeks album, with as many of the original musicians as possible, and a second set of “Van Rarities,” whatever that meant.

He started exactly at 8pm.

Solid Ground - He began this song sitting at the piano, but got up half way through. Throughout the evening he sang, played sax, harmonica and two different guitars.
Glad Tidings
TB Sheets
Who Drove the Red Sports Car?
And It Stoned Me
So Quiet In Here
St. James Infirmary - He began on sax for the first couple of minutes, then switched to vocals, for one of the chillingest versions of this old classic I have ever heard him do. This is one song he always takes to new heights.
Caravan
Comfortable Numb - This was a great version of the Pink Floyd song. He introduced it by saying he didn’t write it, but they asked him to sing it for a movie, so he did.
Mystic Eyes > Gloria - Mystic Eyes is a harmonica rave-up from back in the days of Them, which segued into Gloria, which the Boomer crowd happily sang & spelled along with.
Summertime in England > A Town Called Paradise - This is an odd mashup of pieces from both these two songs, and most of this performance was given over to the call-and-response with the sax player. For those not familiar with it, Van will sing a short phrase and the sax player has to repeat it exactly a second later, almost like a human echo. It’s a lot of fun musically, and Van was doing his best to try and trip up the sax player. He was laughing at one point, until finally the sax player was allowed to rip into a solo.

INTERMISSION

Astral Weeks
Beside You
Sweet Thing
Cyprus Avenue - At the start of this song, Van had one guitar, started calling to the technicians offstage to turn it up ‘cause he couldn’t hear himself. A techie ran out with another guitar, which wasn’t tuned to Van’s liking, so he put the guitar down and sang solo. In the past, this is the kind of thing that would have pissed him of and ruined the evening, but he rolled with it, it didn’t seem to faze him, and he sang as well as ever.
The Way Young Lovers Do
Madame George
Ballerina
Slim Slow Slider
Through all of the above Astral Weeks songs, the band was sort of clattering & shamboling along, almost sounding like it could breakdown at any point, yet it kept rattling on, and I mean this in the best possible way.

ENCORE
Listen To The Lion

It was a large band. Two back up singers, a three-piece string section plus an incredible violinist (his solos were some of the highlights of the sets), a percussionist, a drummer, stand-up acoustic bass player, an organ & piano player who also filled in on trumpet (it might have been Georgie Fame), the sax and flute player, an acoustic guitar player who sat in a chair throughout the show (Jay Berliner), and two additional guitar players. The band was all configured in close proximity to Van, and the bass player and Jay Berliner were actually facing Van instead of the audience. For that matter, all the musicians were watching Van, so they could catch any of his hand signals.

During the Astral Weeks section, the back up singers and the two additional guitarists were not on stage, but they came back out for the encore.

Van’s singing... was great. It is stronger than ever, and he played with it all night, singing through the harmonica, growling, throat-singing... and some of the Astral Weeks songs, particularly Beside You, are pretty taxing vocally, but he kept rolling along. And he was in a good, playful mood, enjoying himself. Some of the Astral Weeks songs came off better than others, but none of the night’s performances were weak.

The one odd note: at every concert I have ever seen, Van makes a point of introducing each member of the band, usually towards the end of an extended song and to my surprise, he did not do that last night.

And finally, I have tickets for this upcoming Tuesday when he does two nights at The Beacon Theater. I will report back then.
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Harry
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Walking westward on 34th Street towards the "Garden" (though aging urban steel rims cracked, was wet with rain) with a group from the Ginger Man, the density of the pedestrian slipstream left me behind. Before we departed, I shouted out points of interest - "Macy's - World's Biggest Store", "Funky Broadway" to the out of towners. Approaching the main entrance, two streams of consciousness - Knick Fans and Van Fans - diverged to their respective ports of entry. No incidents were reported.

A revering audience, except for requisite hoots and woo-hoo's as the lights dimmed.

Northern Muse (Solid Ground), was the most memorable solo piano opening I've experienced since an ancient Springsteen show which opened at the piano with Meeting Across the River. The way Van eased fluidly into the gentle pace of the song, reminded me for some unfathomable reason, of Jackson Browne opening at the Beacon with Somebody's Baby. (Don't mind my cross references, I must have listened to Dennis Miller lately.)

Not to be blasphemous, I enjoyed the first set more, with the Moon Dance songs - fully orchestrated Glad Tidings, And It Stoned Me, and Caravan: horn arrangements evoking the old vinyl, I basked in nostalgia- but 21 Century acoustics making it aurally High Def. Those were my concert highlights.

Backup singers more than a chorus, it was plaintive (to borrow Dan's vocabulary) gospel - mind went back to Springsteen's The Rising at the Lincoln Memorial - loved it when Van some (songs later) preached to the choir - "Long Notes!"

I was hoping that Van wouldn't sing TB Sheets (word was he aired them at rehearsal). Buzz kill! Thankfully, towards the end of the song, Van stepped literally out of character and told the "dungeon" anecdote. For the rest of the show the light of reason prevailed.

Madame George was my second set Moment. I got caught up in its cinematic whirlpool - at one point the tableau reminded me of Hitchcock's Rear Window. I was so emotionally drained by the time Van got to Listen to the Lion, it was, dare I say, anti-climactic. It might as well have been BEG.

This was a concert I always hoped for but never expected to hear. It is my new bench mark, high watermark for future shows. If Van goes back to his nickel and dime garage band, he lessens (self-limits) himself. Give this man a budget. We need the stimulus.

I returned to Seventh Avenue transformed. And I was in the cheap seats. This was the sole show for me. But I am Satisfied.

Snow is on its way. When has Van last seen snow? March winds doth blow. Hang on to your seats (and ticket stubs.)
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A Precise, but Mirthless, Tribute to ‘Astral Weeks’ - by Jon Caramanica (New York Times)
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Published: March 1, 2009

Van Morrison was shouting his way through “A Fool for You” — “Ray Charles!” he yelled after the song’s opening line — when the cord fell out of his microphone, leaving the Irish soul man singing unaided for a brief spell before musing, “We’ll have to do that again, right?” But even when the mic was rebuilt, he held it far from his mouth, roaring the words while still leaving the audience straining to hear. Everyone in the room was working hard. It was, as these things go, a moment: unprocessed, imperfect, jolting.

Still, surprise was not why a sold-out crowd was gathered at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. Mr. Morrison was paying tribute to “Astral Weeks,” his most well-regarded album but also, for a singer with several pop hits to his name, a surprise: it never appeared on the Billboard album chart.

This return trip wasn’t quite a celebration, though. Nor was it a re-evaluation or much of a revision. Instead, it often felt like obligation and, accordingly, Mr. Morrison treated it perversely for much of the night.

First came the delayed gratification: he began with an hourlong set consisting mostly of album cuts and curios. Occasionally he was clarion clear — the soft-loud dynamics of “So Quiet in Here” were arresting, and “Who Drove the Red Sports Car” was an impassioned holler (“Read your Bible! Read your Bible!”). When he strayed from his own songbook, he sounded invigorated, as if trying to renew his lineal claims: the aforementioned Ray Charles cover, soon followed by Mr. Morrison playing scraping, arch alto sax on the standard “St. James Infirmary Blues.”

But too often, Mr. Morrison mumbled, either in a race to get through lyrics or in a struggle to remember their outlines. And his communication with his band often felt fraught as well, leaving the impression of a brusque taskmaster, not an organic channeler. Rather than look at their instruments, the musicians mostly focused on him, waiting to see when he’d drop his elbow like a wrestler to cut them short, or when he might stop noodling on his harmonica, so everyone could get back to playing. Richie Buckley in particular, did yeoman’s work, on flute, saxophones, and on “A Town Called Paradise,” a bizarre, bonhomous call-and-response with Mr. Morrison that had the star cackling before he walked off stage for intermission, band still playing.

Mr. Morrison has said that he wanted to give the rarely performed songs on “Astral Weeks” a proper live treatment, which in this show meant a full backing band, superfluous string section and all, and a switch from white dress shirt to black, matching the rest of Mr. Morrison’s outfit, from fedora to leather pants.

“Astral Weeks” the album is eight songs long, though really it sounds like 30 small explosions stitched together. Recorded with an assemblage of jazz heavies, it’s full of tiny, impressive gestures, a clever and thoughtful showcase of bendable songwriting and casually assured arrangement,

Last week Mr. Morrison released “Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl” (Listen to the Lion-EMI), recorded in November. But this tribute, like that one, was somewhat deflated, with a presentation that was precise but often mirthless.

An oversize band may be required to pull off all of this album’s tiny flourishes, but often Mr. Morrison, and this very delicate album, seemed suffocated, a product of overinstrumentation and his own limitations.

Not everywhere, though. On “Slim Slow Slider,” the album’s closer, the band kept clear of Mr. Morrison, singing about how when the one that gets away gets away, it can be something of a relief. And during “Cyprus Avenue,” Mr. Morrison bubbled with frustration, shouting at someone offstage, “Turn me up! Turn it up!” When that didn’t work, he called for a new guitar. A few bars later, he decided that one wasn’t any good either and set it down. Not getting what he wanted, though, forced him to redouble his vocal efforts, giving shape and depth where there had been none. It shouldn’t have been, but it was something of a shock.
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Van Morrison sings 'Astral Weeks' and more in New York - by Jay Lustig (The Star-Ledger)
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Sunday March 01, 2009, 2:01 PM
Van Morrison performing Friday night at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK -- It's about the last thing you would expect Van Morrison to do.

In November, he played his classic 1968 album "Astral Weeks" in its entirety at two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He did the same thing Friday and Saturday at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden, and will do so again tomorrow and Wednesday at another Manhattan venue, The Beacon Theatre. Another two "Astral Weeks" shows are planned for April, at London's Royal Albert Hall.

This is unlike Morrison because throughout his long career he has been an unpredictable figure, restlessly trying out new musical styles, and refusing to crank out his old hits in concert. Onstage, he comes off more like a jazz artist, willing to go wherever the music leads him, than a typical pop star or classic-rocker. One wouldn't expect him to put any kind of limit on a show.

This new chapter in his career -- which has already been documented by a CD, "Astral Weeks: Live At The Hollywood Bowl," with a DVD to follow -- makes a certain amount of sense, though, if you consider the nature of "Astral Weeks." One of the reasons it had such an impact, in '68, was that it seemed limitless. Traditional song structure went out the window; instead, these songs ebbed and flowed, with long, meditative passages coming between the emotional peaks. Morrison and his band seemed to be discovering the songs, and all their nuances, as they played them.

"Astral Weeks" did not make the Top 40 or yield any hit singles. But it helped expand the boundaries of what a rock album could be, and its influence was felt by future generations of jazz-rockers, prog-rockers and jam bands.

Morrison played the album's songs in order Friday night, and didn't drastically overhaul them. But by subtly altering tempos, and adding riffs and solos, he gave the impression of discovering them once again.

He was most animated on "Ballerina," while "The Way Young Lovers Do," with its loose, swinging beat, was the most rhythmically compelling number, and there were some explosive moments in "Sweet Thing" and "Madame George."

Ten musicians, including a three-piece string section, backed Morrison for this part of the show, gamely following where Morrison led: they frequently altered their playing in response to Morrison's hand gestures and head nods. This is not the way you expect a classic album to be played. But this classic album is "Astral Weeks."

The "Astral Weeks" songs constituted the show's second set. The band was even larger -- 15 pieces -- for lone encore "Listen to the Lion" and the opening set, which offered an unpredictable survey of Morrison's past.

He went back even further than "Astral Weeks" for "Who Drove the Red Sports Car?" and the dark "T.B. Sheets," as well as a garage-rock medley of "Mystic Eyes" and "Gloria." There were three concise gems from his pop-friendly "Moondance" album ("Glad Tidings," "Caravan," "And It Stoned Me"); more contemplative songs like "Northern Muse (Solid Ground)" and "So Quiet In Here"; and covers ranging from the standard "St. James Infirmary" (with Morrison taking a sax solo) to a majestic version of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."

Late in the set, he performed a routine with saxophonist,flutist Richie Buckley; Morrison would sing a phrase, then Buckley would echo it, almost immediately, with his voice or his saxophone. The effect was dizzying. Morrison has often done this kind of thing before, but something about the way it went on Friday cracked him up.

There was also some unintentional comic relief, moments later, as Morrison tried to make a dramatic exit, singing as he walked offstage. Only his microphone cord wouldn't reach, and after struggling with it briefly, he gave up, muttered "The cord's not long enough," put down his mic, and walked off.

A word of warning to those planning to attend the Beacon concerts: Get there on time! Morrison started this show, which had no opening act, at exactly its advertised time: 8 p.m. Rock headliners hardly ever do that. As a result, many people were still shuffling to their seats as the show's first few songs were played.

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