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Van Morrison Revisits "Astral Weeks" at Hollywood Bowl

November 10, 2008 11:30 AM ET

After four decades, Astral Weeks is still the sweetest slice of mystery in Van Morrison's catalog, but until this past weekend, Morrison had never performed the album live. (Speaking recently with David Wild in Rolling Stone, he blamed Warner Bros. for not providing sufficient promotion back in 1968.) So when he played Astral Weeks in its entirety for two shows at the Hollywood Bowl, everybody present seemed to know they were witnessing history (except for the two teenagers in line for hot dogs who expected they would be seeing Van Halen). Tickets ranged from $75 to $350, and a full camera crew captured the performance for a future DVD. The dozen backing musicians even included the original Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner (Richard Davis, whose elegant work on stand-up bass provided the album's spine, had a family emergency and backed out at the last minute).

After an opening set (generally strong, although Morrison, obviously bored with "Brown-Eyed Girl," now barely bothers with its consonants), Morrison strapped on an acoustic guitar and tackled Astral Weeks. Sometimes he evoked the fragility of the original material, but more often he took charge the music with the authority that comes with four decades of performing, even shuffling the original playing order for no obvious reason. Morrison extended the album to a full hour, leaving lots of room for solos and for his own scatting. It seemed that once he breathed in the perfume of these eight songs, he didn't want them to end — and looking at the enraptured crowd, he wasn't the only one.

Set List:
"Wavelength"
"Saint Dominic's Preview"
"Caravan"
"Heavy Connection"
"Here Comes the Night"
"And the Healing Has Begun"
"Summertime in England"
"Brown-Eyed Girl"
"Gloria" (incorporating "Who Do You Love")

Astral Weeks:
"Astral Weeks"
"Beside You"
"Slim Slow Slider"
"Sweet Thing"
"The Way Young Lovers Do"
"Cyprus Avenue"
"Ballerina"
"Madame George"

 

Encore:
"Listen to the Lion"

Related Stories:
Q&A: Van Morrison Returns to Astral Weeks
Van Morrison at SXSW
The Immortals: Van Morrison
Classic Interview: Van Morrison in 1972

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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