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.
"Saint Dominic's Preview"
"Here Comes the Night"
"And the Healing Has Begun"
"Summertime in England"
"Gloria" (incorporating "Who Do You Love")
"Slim Slow Slider"
"The Way Young Lovers Do"
"Listen to the Lion"
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