on 03MAY2009 from Art
A very good show, with some outstanding highlights. Some notes about the band: Liam Bradley still missing in action as in London, but tonight Lady Bianca was as well. Sarah Jory, Pauline Lozano and Karen Hamill took over backup vocal duties, but Bianca was missed. Jay Berliner played in both sets. And the rain did not fall!
For me, the show did not wake up until about song 8 in the first set, when Van stretched out on Game, to "the river of no return", then the big, rolling groove of "make it real one more time", and finally a good bit of speaking in tongues Then, an excellent "Queen of the Slipstream", with Sarah Jory soloing on pedal steel guitar and David Hayes bopping about on bass. A missable Moondance, then great versions of Healing and the truncated Common One > Ancient Highway with a squealin' feelin' segment and a big "Soul in Wonder" finish.
The Astral Weeks set was marred by a few snippy comments to band members like "you can come in anytime" and "do we have strings on this?". Slim Slow Slider had a few changed lyricis ("seems like you're dyin' and you seem to know it too") and a long piece about the doctor who put him on railway carriage charms "cuz it picks you up". Sweet thing had a faster-than-usual tempo and a chunky, chokey rhythm, and a nice long solo by Jay Berliner at the end. Ballerina was the highlight of this segment for me. Van moved around the stage with his guitar, strumming and encouraging the musicians as they soloed. In Madame George, we heard that the protagonist is at the train station where he has unknowingly been given something containing opium, hence "this is the train, is this a train?". The final songs, usually done as encores, were done immediately without a break.
I think the consensus was that Van has done this show better, but it was still a strong show tonight. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
on 03MAY2009 from Jim Harrington (Bay Area arts and entertainment blog)
It looked like it would be a miserable night for a “Moondance.”
The wet weather, however, managed to dry up in time for the opening night of the UC Greek Theatre’s 2009 concert series, and all the fans who carted rain ponchos and umbrellas to the Berkeley venue on Saturday never had to use them.
Perhaps the threat of rain was one of the reasons why so many stayed away from the event – only a half-full house turned out to the 8,500-capacity open-air theater to see the first of two nights with rock legend Van Morrison.
Or, maybe, it was the exorbitant ticket prices, which topped out at $350 per stub.
The third plausible reason is that the occasion – the chance to see a live performance of Morrison’s most highly cherished record, 1968’s “Astral Weeks” – wasn’t quite the draw that promoters had hoped. The album is generally regarded by critics as one of rock’s all-time finest, but its sales numbers aren’t nearly as elite. It did, after all, take some 33 years before “Astral Weeks” would move enough copies to achieve gold certification (500,000-plus in sales).
Sales numbers don’t tell the story of how much this glorious song cycle, Morrison’s second solo record, means to die-hard fans. It’s not the album that produced his best-known hits – indeed, only one “Astral Weeks” track, “Sweet Thing,” would make it onto “The Best of Van Morrison” – but it is the one that most fully captures the singer’s highly individual mix of Celtic, rock, folk and jazz sounds. It’s a work that, even today, most people have difficulty in trying to classify – it’s just pure Van, at the height of his powers.
The Belfast Cowboy certainly did this material justice in concert, but he’d make fans wait until the second set before opening the book on “Astral Weeks.”
Backed by a 14-piece band, which included two percussionists, backing vocalists and a string section, the 63-year-old former Bay Area resident spent the first hour of the show reeling through the years. He performed the first number, “Northern Muse,” while seated at the Steinway piano, then moved to the microphone at center stage and began slurring out the words to some of his greatest hits, including “And It Stoned Me,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Wild Night” and “Moondance.”
Morrison’s typically eclectic mix of musical flavors tilted in the first set to the country side, something the star explored at length on 2006’s “Pay the Devil,” with plenty of fiddle and some slide guitar rising to the top.
It took Morrison a while to warm up on this cold night, and the songs that came later in the set were much stronger – more alive, if you will – then what was heard early on.
Fortunately, he was good and ready by the time it came to delve into “Astral Weeks,” which the band did after coming back from a 20-minute break.
Those looking for a note-for-note, or even lyric-by-lyric, re-creation of the milestone would’ve have better served to stay home and listen to the record. Morrison went the other direction and grabbed onto what, at essence, made “Astral Weeks” such an amazing work – the sense that the star was leading the listener on a very personal musical exploration, one built on pure feeling more so than licks, riffs and melodies.
It was impossible to say how much of the mix was pure lyrical stream of consciousness, as opposed to premeditated, or to what degree improvisation factored in, although Morrison was visibly active in leading the band through changes that the players apparently weren’t expecting. One way or the other, the balancing act worked wondrously as Morrison made all eight of these tracks –and especially “Cypress Avenue” and “Ballerina” – feel exciting in fashions both familiar and new.
For those who missed Saturday’s concert, or the repeat on Sunday, think about picking up “Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl.” That newly released set, recorded late last year at one of Los Angeles’ most fabled venues, provides a good picture of what some local fans had the good fortune to experience in person.