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Van Morrison

Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Listen to the Lion

May 09, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

First appearing in 1968, Astral Weeks has become one of the most critically acclaimed records of all time. With Morrison’s indelible vocals, adventurous arrangements, and evocative lyrics, the album manages to encompass pop, rock, jazz, folk, blues, and even classical categorizations without being merely a pastiche of them all. But the eclipse of categorization is a result of the transcendental spirituality of the album, not the cause of it. The idea that there is just “great music, period”—whether it be John Coltrane or Nina Simone or Bob Dylan—is the idea that something is communicated that is beyond music, something that is mutually glimpsed, or revealed. Songs have the power to do this more regularly, but rarely can an entire record, start to finish, provide such an encounter. In Mojo’s ranking of the top one hundred albums ever made, Astral Weeks came in number two. They were off by one.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Morrison and Co. performed the record in its entirety. The musicians and Morrison are true to the record but not too true as to be calculated. What makes performing Astral Weeks live a difficult task is that the recorded version was already the perfect balance of spontaneity and calculation. To recreate it live, one is faced with the dilemma of playing the notes and chords as they were played on the record, which achieved the aforementioned harmony, or to try to recreate the feeling that the songs had on the record.

The performers, including Morrison, do an admirable job of maintaining the original arrangements (as throughout the years Morrison has often played around with these songs, for example, turning “Sweet Thing” into an up-tempo number) without delivering placid results. One striking moment is the “I Start Breaking Down” tag on “Slim Slow Slider,” the aggressively, repetitively strummed acoustic countering the smoother, repetitive chanting of Morrison’s voice. And overall his voice is still in good form – it’s not the voice of It’s Too Late To Stop Now!, but a stirring grain nonetheless.

Overall, the performance communicates some of the feeling of the original recording and even provides several novel experiences, which is all that can be really asked in a situation like this.


Author rating: 8/10

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