on 14MAY2009 from L.A. Weekly (Scott Foundas)
“I need to know that he’s going to do the three-minute-and-50-second version and not some eight-minute version,” says the Tonight Show talent booker moments after Van Morrison storms off the stage during the run-through for last Wednesday afternoon’s taping. The booker — a stern-looking woman in her 40s with curly, dark hair and thigh-high riding boots — is talking to J.R. Rich, a soft-spoken vice president of publicity for Morrison’s distributor, EMI Music, who calmly assures her that this is the first time anything like this has happened on Morrison’s Astral Weeks Live concert tour, which kicked off at the Hollywood Bowl last November and returned to Los Angeles for a three-night stand at the Orpheum last weekend. Along the way, there have been incident-free television appearances by the normally press-shy singer-songwriter on Regis, Jimmy Fallon and CBS Sunday Morning.
Moments earlier, everything seemed to be going smoothly at The Tonight Show, too, as Morrison led his band in a rendition of “Slim Slow Slider,” a song that clocked in at a mere 3:18 on the 1968 Astral Weeks studio recording, but which has been regularly “stretched out” (Morrison’s preferred term for his stream-of-consciousness improvisations) to three times that length during the Astral Weeks Livesets, making it the most radically transformed of the album’s eight tracks. On the surprisingly small Tonight Show stage, Morrison, outfitted in signature Stetson and shades, straps on the white acoustic guitar he has favored during this tour and starts to play, pausing to give a few shorthand directions to the band (“Something missing, man,” “Too much”). But in an effort to conserve his voice, strained by the previous week’s concerts in Berkeley, Morrison doesn’t sing the song full-out, instead whispering a few key lyrics here and there just to keep everyone on track. When he finishes, the show’s floor director says, “I think you should do that the way you’re gonna do it on the show.” To which Morrison replies, “It’s not a song you can rehearse like that,” and then bolts for his upstairs dressing room, where he will remain until the taping.