on 19APR2009 from Barnes www.wordmagazine.co.uk
Anyone out there go to see Van the Man last night? What a night. I've seen him many times including both of the last two shows at Hampton Court, but last night was exceptional. Not only did we get, as billed, Astral Weeks in its entirety in the second half plus two (yes two) encores of Listen for for the Lion and Gloria (including a snippet of 'Who do you love' in the middle), but a first half of sheer joy. He was clearly having fun, he even spoke to us...it was brief, but amusing: "This is the bit where I hide behind the guitar', as he strapped it on for the first time and played some typically brilliant, restrained lead guitar.
It seemed as though it had suddenly dawned on him that he has an amazing back catalogue that the fans want to hear him play. The 'back and forth' in Common One was worth the entry price alone, as was the two minute strings interlude in Listen for the Lion.
The band were stupendous. Violin playing to die for. Van on harmonica and singing (or should I say growling) at the same time. Brilliant guitar playing. Wonderful backing singers....etc
I've been to many concerts at The Albert Hall...I think it's a terrible venue for a 'rock' concert but Van filled every corner of it. He touched everyone in the crowd. People were buzzing as they left, smiling from ear to ear. He's on again tonight. It wasn't sold out and there were plenty of fans trying to sell spare tickets at much less than the horrific box office price. If you're a fan and can get there I'd highly recommend it.
Oh..and by the way...if you were there last night and you noted down the set list, would you be kind enough to post it? Thanks
on 20APR2009 from Pete Paphides (The Times)
Van Morrison at the Royal Albert Hall
Although it has long been regarded as one of the greatest records of all time, interviewers who have, over the decades, ventured to broach the topic of Astral Weeks with Van Morrison have often met with a rather frosty response.
It may, according to no less a fan than Elvis Costello, rank as “the most adventurous album made in the rock medium” but Morrison says Warner Brothers barely promoted it at the time, with the result that sales left him hardly enough money to pay the bills.
One suspects that Morrison’s reluctance to glory in his febrile jazz-folk masterpiece, which he recorded at the age of just 22, may also stem from the serendipitous circumstances that produced it. Two sessions recorded with American musicians, barely known to him at the time, established an artistic high water mark that, in recent years especially, Morrison has struggled to match.
It would be naïve to think that the volte-face represented by this beginning-to-end recital of the album was undertaken in a spirit of smiling rapprochement. In Morrison’s world, for a start, little is done smilingly, and besides, the posters in the foyer advertising a new album on his own imprint Astral Weeks — Live (recorded last year at the Hollywood Bowl) underscored that this was good business.
Whatever Morrison’s motives, however, the singer’s famously exacting levels of perfectionism meant this was a task undertaken anything but lightly. The fact that the 64-year-old singer had gone to the trouble of locating guitarist Jay Berliner — sometime sideman to Charles Mingus and present on the original Astral Weeks sessions — suggested as much. A vital presence here, the New Yorker hunched over his guitar and embroidered his way around the iconic tap of the song’s title track with an arresting fluency that obliterated the intervening years.
Inevitably though, it was hard to avert your gaze from a surprisingly trim-looking Morrison, who seems set on revealing surprisingly little of himself these days. As a result, the ever-present shades and hat seemed to accentuate the incongruously orange sheen of his hair.
After the death of James Brown, it’s hard to think of another band leader who elicits such deference from the musicians around him. Initiated via a repertoire of bewilderingly complex hand signals, songs long since etched in the memory of fans revealed magnificent new depths. The love-drunk rapture of Sweet Thing and The Way Young Lovers Do burst to life with new colour amid the ornate soloing of violinist Tony Fitzgibbons. Locked into each other with almost telepathic empathy, rhythm section Robbie Ruggiero and David Hayes lent a purposeful, celebratory zip to an extended Ballerina.
The longer Morrison mapped out the verdant, mystical postwar Belfast so vividly depicted in songs like Cyprus Avenue and Madame George, the more fascinating it became to watch the behaviour they inspired in their creator.
In the one-hour “warm-up” of old hits that preceded this set, Morrison had remained relatively aloof from his band, even when turning in soaring reconfigurations of It’s All in the Game and Caravan. In keeping with the semi-improvisational nature of the Astral Weeks songs, however, Morrison’s body language was gradually transformed. The hand-signals may have persisted, but increasingly, Morrison the band leader seemed no less happy to be led by the joyful noise that surrounded him.
Encircled by his own musicians, in thrall to the jazz-folk sub-genre singlehandedly invented and, many would say, never bettered by these songs, two eyebrows rose plaintively above Morrison’s shades. “I believe I’ve transcended,” he averred.
If the five-minute ovation encompassing all of a seismic, valedictory Gloria was anything to go by, he wasn’t the only one who thought so.
on 20APR2009 from Robin Denselow (The Guardian)
This wasn't just a concert, it was a rock event: the first ever UK performance of Astral Weeks, the 1968 album that established Van Morrison's solo career, and regularly appears in best-album lists, especially when compiled by those nostalgic for the 60s parties where Madame George would forever be playing in the background.
It didn't matter that Morrison is still a regular on the London concert scene, for there was a sense of anticipation in the packed-out Albert Hall that almost matched the mood when Cream returned here four years ago. Astral Weeks was special because it sounded like no other album of its time, but was recorded in New York in just two days when Morrison was 23. He had already made his mark with the R&B band Them, and now set out to mix blues, rock and Celtic influences from his native Belfast with a sense of improvisation that came from his interest in jazz. It was an intense and remarkable album that led the way to his later experiments.
And it was this later work that dominated the show. He came on sporting a grey suit, dark glasses and a black hat, surrounded by a 15-piece band that included strings, brass, backing singers and the inspired acoustic guitarist Jay Berliner, who played on the original Astral Weeks recordings. Morrison himself played piano, saxophone, organ, harmonica and guitar, and in the first lengthy set he constantly changed the mood, from the grand and rolling I Can't Stop Loving You, popularised by Ray Charles, to a furious exercise in dynamics and improvisation on Caravan, the best song of the night.
Then at last came Astral Weeks, as he returned after the interval now wearing an incongruous black leather suit along with the hat and glasses. It didn't work for him, and neither did some of these new versions of his classic songs. The original album matched Morrison's powerful vocals against sparse backing, and though Berliner tied hard to summon the old mood with flurries of acoustic guitar work, many songs were lost in a swirl of sound, especially for those of us watching from high above.
Morrison sang well, but couldn't recreate the emotional intensity of Slim Slow Slider or that other classic, Cyprus Avenue, and seemed happier with a faster treatment of Sweet Thing or a gutsy version of Ballerina. But at least Madame George thankfully retained much of its moody fascination. By the end, he seemed almost relieved to move on to revive that glorious, stomping Them favourite, Gloria. It was an impressive show, but Astral Weeks was not the high point.
on 20APR2009 from nosey
My personal take was that Van didn't really get going in the first set until about 4 songs from the end, Game was great, Healing Has Begun ended the set with Van playing electric guitar for the first time this evening. We even got the proper version of HITYL Second tune in (after Northern Muse Solid Ground) was Troubadours, but it wasn't a shadow to that played in Hollywood.
Second set started poorly (IMHO), I thought he didn't give enough to Astral Weeks, but every song afterwards was as good as any I've heard, Finishing with LTTL and coming back with a medley of Mystic Eyes into Gorilla.
Hoping tomorrows first set is improved upon.