Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Paste Site: Old Fart Roundup

Andy Whitman has written a good short piece on some of Van's live albums on the Paste Magazine website.  Here's part of his piece with the Bruce Springsteen content removed:    

The Van Morrison live experience is a confounding thing. He can be totally mesmerising (see It’s Too Late to Stop Now, from 1974). He can be professionally competent (see Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast, from 1984). And he can be petulantly inaccessible (see One Night in San Francisco, from 1994, where he turns over many of the vocal duties to his backup singers). What he is on Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl is simply great.
For the fortieth anniversary of his landmark second solo album (and the one that put him on the singer/songwriter map), Van rounded up a few of the original musicians, hired a couple horn players and a string section, rehearsed the unwieldy band once, and then hit the Hollywood Bowl stage determined to wing it. The results, recorded over two nights in November, 2008, are nearly miraculous. What we get is the entire Astral Weeks album, albeit played slightly out of order. Then he tosses in Listen to the Lion and Common One for good measure. Those of you who know Van's early recordings know that these songs basically define the Holy Grail of a certain esoteric movement, of which Van is the primary if not the sole practitioner, in which Musical Performer Goes Apeshit/Has Out-of-Body Mystical Experience Where Muses/Gods/Ancient Caledonian Ancestors Are Encountered.

On the original albums (and I'd recommend Astral Weeks and 1972's St. Dominic's Preview as the best examples) these are strange and hair-raising experiences indeed. They're a little more subdued and earthbound here, but still thrilling. Van has been a scintillating great singer, and can still be when he wants to be. He wants to be most of the time here, and the band he's assembled plays the music with passionate abandon. More impressively, the extended improvisational codas stretch the music in ways that are entirely suited to Morrison’s ecstatic singing. Van excels at moaning, humming, scatting, and soaring off into the stratosphere, and he gets, and takes, plenty of chances to sail into the mystic. The end result is a 70-minute tour-de-force, something delightfully unexpected and daring in a late career that has been increasingly characterised by playing it safe and keeping it simple.

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