The Viaducts of Your Dream

I actually wrote two different pieces about last month’s Van Morrison concert, which was an interesting exercise. I was trying to repeat myself as little as possible–but make sure that each dispatch made sense. (It helped that the Rolling Stone website wanted a newsier angle, while the paper magazine asked for a critical review.) I linked to the online article last month, but the review got boiled down to a Random Note (victim of the same page crunch that claimed the Pete Townshend article). I thought you might enjoy reading the longer version before too much time had passed (you can see the show on DVD in 2009, after all):

November 8, 2008
Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood CA
(four stars)

Over his career, Van Morrison has gradually exchanged divine inspiration for chops. So his recent return to the never-before-performed-live Astral Weeks was cause for celebration, but also a mystery. What would the experienced bluesman bring to the legendary album he made forty years ago as a young Irish poet?

After an opening set heavy on other early material (including “Caravan” and two Them singles), Morrison donned an acoustic guitar and played Astral Weeks in its entirety, albeit with the songs’ order rearranged (either because he was unhappy with the album’s flow or because he really likes the “shuffle” mode on his iPod). He stretched out most of the songs with additional solos and scatting, sometimes riffing on Astral Weeks lyrics, other times just kicking around one of his favorite words, such as “Caledonia.”

Morrison is now a more confident singer than he was in 1968; at times, that overwhelmed the album’s innocent magic, but more often, it let him find new accents and meanings. For example, on the original version of “Beside You,” the lyrics “you breathe in, you breathe out / you breathe in, you breathe out” tumbled out of Morrison in an orgasmic rush. Live, he actually inhaled between each line in that verse, pacing himself and extending the pleasure.

Accompanied by a crack ensemble of a dozen musicians (including original Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner, but not bassist Richard Davis, who bowed out due to a family emergency), Morrison seemed genuinely moved to be venturing once again into the slipstream, even if his customary sour mien didn’t crack. Dressed like a Jewish gangster, Morrison hid behind oversized dark glasses and a custom-made “VM” microphone stand. He addressed the audience exactly once, before concluding the show with “Madame George,” saying only, “Thank you, thank you. You’ve made a happy man very old.”

–Gavin Edwards

posted 8 December 2008 in Reviews and tagged , , . no comments yet

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