Drawn from a fabled string of shows, Van Morrison’s 1974 …It’s Too Late To Stop Now… (named for the shout that caps the outrageously teased-out ending of “Cypress Avenue,” his usual set closer) is rightly considered among the best live LPs ever. This companion culls from three of the 1973 shows that informed that album, with no overlap. The setlist is broader; repeat selections come from different shows, and given the band’s jazzy elasticity, they feel fresh. It’s not unlike the Fillmore West 1969 collection of Live/Dead source shows, except that the Dead’s golden era has been exhaustively documented. That’s not true of Morrison, and though this material has floated around as bootlegs, Volumes II, II, IV effectively reclaims a major piece of rock & roll history.
This is the jaw-dropping band – the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, with horns and strings – that Springsteen and the E Street crew would echo to a remarkable degree in the early days, and that seeded Patti Smith’s radical cover of “Gloria” on 1975’s Horses (check the illuminating version here, from the Santa Monica Civic Center). Morrison’s men and women pivot through jazz, R&B, country, rock, folk and blue-eyed soul, his execution of the latter raw, lush, and so authoritative he might as well get credit for inventing the sub-genre. The band could follow him anywhere, and did, at a time when he never failed to find a thrilling new-ness in his material, speaking in tongues, bending bedrock songs like clay.
Morrison maneuvers through the verses of “Moondance” – one of his most beloved numbers, nixed from the original Too Late supposedly due to minor technical flaws in the captured recordings – like a jazz singer, which he always was when he felt like it, utterly confident, reimagining a song so overplayed by classic rock programmers that its greatness can be hard to hear. It’s dazzling. He does the same thing on “The Way Young Lovers Do,” an even more spacious composition, as strings, piano, and horns swirl elegantly, Morrison moving through them like he’s dancing through tall grass in a windy field. There’s the insistently-building groove of “Sweet Thing,” guitarist John Platania peeling off licks like endless calendar pages. The band is fire even on lesser numbers: Bill Atwood’s smeared trumpet lines on “I Believe To My Soul,” Platania’s blowout on a startlingly fierce “Bein’ Green” (yes, Kermit’s song). There’s so much more: Morrison’s grunting freestyle in “Listen To The Lion;” the gear-shifting honkytonk-gospel-rattler-cum-blues-waltz “Moonshine Whiskey” (which also never made the original LPs playlist); and the stuttering call-and-response between his voice, Jack Schroer’s sax, and Jeff Labes’ piano on “Cypress Avenue,” which captures precisely the heart-in-mouth experience being described, until dude finds his groove and the strings enter and it’s “six white horses and a carriage” and he announces “here I am, here I am!” And then it’s “Caravan,” and he’s asking “what kind of soul?” and the horns answer, then the strings, and then the audience, clapping in double-time, and Morrison announcing band members like their names are song lyrics, then yelling “turn it up,” which his band does, taking it home. You can only wish you’d’ve been there. Fire up the DVD, well shot at the London Rainbow performance in July 1973, Morrison killing them between cigarette drags, and you almost are.