Concert film: Van Morrison – Astral Weeks live 2008

AV live VM screenshot

“The way I was singing the songs was jazz”
– Van Morrison

I have changed my mind, I do that from time to time (all the time actually…).  My favorite Van Morrison album has been Moondance for years, but now it is Astral Weeks. I’ve always loved Astral Weeks, it has been third on my list of his albums (the live album, It’s too late to stop now, had the second spot). 

VM AW 4

As of today it is officially on top, I get it now, I can truly see the greatness. I have played it to death these last weeks and it goes beyond pop/rock music, it is in a genre of it’s own. I know I’m ramblin’, but bear with me, I’m just an exited convert.

I went on YouTube to see if I could find some good versions of the songs, what I found was Morrisons’s fantastic live re-enactment of his masterpiece. I collected what I found, it is amazing!

Astral Weeks live VM

On November 7 and 8, 2008, four decades after the release of the classic Astral Weeks, Van Morrison revisited the album live in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl, and delivered a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring performance. Van did not simply re-create what he did 40 years ago in a NY studio, but instead took the songs to a dramatically higher contemporary level. The Jazz-rooted compositions of Astral Weeks are poetic stories of young love and the quest to find one’s place in life. They were, and remain, ideal source material for musical improvisation that gives way to the sense of wonder for which Morrison has always striven.
– Amazon.com

Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl: The Concert Film is the second official DVD by Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison. It was released May 19, 2009. It features the songs from his 1968 classic album, Astral Weeks. The live performances on the movie were filmed on two concerts by Van Morrison at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California with a fourteen member band.

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Morrison has also released an album on CD and vinyl on February 24, 2009 entitled, Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl with material from these two concerts.

UPDATE: Please read the comments from Andrew Robertson for a more comprehensive (and more correct) account of the two concerts.

Van Morrison – Astral Weeks / I Believe I’ve Transcended:

I play in a free-form, inspired style; I have no choice but to change it up according to the vibe. The new record was recorded live; what [you hear] is what was played in its raw form. There was no mixing, no tweaking, no post-production at all, and I like that raw and edgy sound in real time. It’s got a lot of boom to it! I really like listening to live records, it’s my new thing. Real and alive, the life is not taken out of it like a studio produced record can and very too often, does. My motto right now is post mixing kills.

– Van Morrison (to Paste Magazine)

Van Morrison – Beside You:

Van Morrison – Slim Slow Slider / I Start Breaking Down:

Van Morrison – Sweet Thing:

Van Morrison – The Way Young Lovers Do:


Van Morrison – Cyprus Avenue / You Came Walking Down:

Van Morrison – Ballerina / Move On Up:

Van Morrison – Madame George:

Van Morrison – Listen To The Lion / The Lion Speaks (not from the original Astral Weeks album):

Encore (not from the original Astral Weeks album):
Van Morrison – Common One:

Van Morrison – Gloria:

Great stuff!

Here is a Van Morrison interview about the concert/live album (about 2 and a half-minute) and a collection of the 4 first songs of the show (in lesser quality than the clips above), “Astral Weeks” Live At The Hollywood Bowl- Brilliant Performances Of “Astral Weeks”, “Beside You”, “Slim Slow Slider”, and “Sweet Thing”:

– Hallgeir

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube and Amazon, Paste Magazine

15 thoughts on “Concert film: Van Morrison – Astral Weeks live 2008”

  1. Thank you very much for providing the videos of Van’s Hollywood Bowl Astral Weeks concerts. Fantastic stuff!

    Is there any way of obtaining these videos on DVD at any kind of reasonable price? In Europe? And with the bonus tracks like Gloria that you have up here?

    All I’ve been able to find on Internet searches is a DVD for the incredible price of 475 dollars US and I’m not sure that this version is playable or even legally obtainable in Europe.

    Thanks in advance any help on this.

  2. Fri Feb 27 2009 at The WaMu at MSG, NYC

    I know Van Morrison has a mixed reputation for his concerts. He has deserved it, but over the past three years he has been fairly consistent, always delivering an evening of great singing with a top notch in-the-groove band.

    Last night, Friday Feb 27th, at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in NYC, was one of the best Van Morrison concerts I have ever seen. He played for a little over 2 hours, and his voice is, amazingly, better than ever. And the WaMu Theater (which was originally the old Felt Forum) is a pretty decent venue. Large, but the sightlines are all good and all on one level, no balconies. Even though we were in the last eight rows, we felt a part of the night, not lost in the bleachers.

    For those who do not know, these shows have been touting two distinct sections: a complete run through of the Astral Weeks album, with as many of the original musicians as possible, and a second set of “Van Rarities,” whatever that meant.

    He started exactly at 8pm.

    Solid Ground – He began this song sitting at the piano, but got up half way through. Throughout the evening he sang, played sax, harmonica and two different guitars.
    Glad Tidings
    TB Sheets
    Who Drove the Red Sports Car?
    And It Stoned Me
    So Quiet In Here
    St. James Infirmary – He began on sax for the first couple of minutes, then switched to vocals, for one of the chillingest versions of this old classic I have ever heard him do. This is one song he always takes to new heights.
    Caravan
    Comfortable Numb – This was a great version of the Pink Floyd song. He introduced it by saying he didn’t write it, but they asked him to sing it for a movie, so he did.
    Mystic Eyes/Gloria – Mystic Eyes is a harmonica rave-up from back in the days of Them, which segued into Gloria, which the Baby Boomer crowd happily sang & spelled along with.
    Summertime in England/A Town Called Paradise – This is an odd mashup of pieces from both these two songs, and most of this performance was given over to the call-and-response with the sax player. For those not familiar with it, Van will sing a short phrase and the sax player has to repeat it exactly a second later, almost like a human echo. It’s a lot of fun musically, and Van was doing his best to try and trip up the sax player. He was laughing at one point, until finally the sax player was allowed to rip into a solo.

    INTERMISSION

    Astral Weeks
    Beside You
    Sweet Thing
    Cyprus Avenue – At the start of this song, Van had one guitar, started calling to the technicians offstage to turn it up ‘cause he couldn’t hear himself. A techie ran out with another guitar, which wasn’t tuned to Van’s liking, so he put the guitar down and sang solo. In the past, this is the kind of thing that would have pissed him of and ruined the evening, but he rolled with it, it didn’t seem to faze him, and he sang as well as ever.
    The Way Young Lovers Do
    Madame George
    Ballerina
    Slim Slow Slider
    Through all of the above Astral Weeks songs, the band was sort of clattering & shamboling along, almost sounding like it could breakdown at any point, yet it kept rattling on, and I mean this in the best possible way.

    ENCORE
    Listen To The Lion

    It was a large band. Two back up singers, a three-piece string section plus an incredible violinist (his solos were some of the highlights of the sets), a percussionist, a drummer, stand-up acoustic bass player, an organ & piano player who also filled in on trumpet, the sax/flute player, an acoustic guitar player who sat in a chair throughout the show (Jay Berliner), and two additional guitar players. The band was all configured in close proximity to Van, and the bass player and Jay Berliner were actually facing Van instead of the audience. For that matter, all the musicians were watching Van, so they could catch any of his hand signals.

    During the Astral Weeks section, the back up singers and the two additional guitarists were not on stage, but they came back out for the encore.

    Van’s singing… was great. It is stronger than ever, and he played with it all night, singing through the harmonica, growling, throat-singing… and some of the Astral Weeks songs, particularly Beside You, are pretty taxing vocally, but he kept rolling along. And he was in a good, playful mood, enjoying himself. Some of the Astral Weeks songs came off better than others, but none of the night’s performances were weak.

    The one odd note: at every concert I have ever seen, Van makes a point of introducing each member of the band, usually towards the end of an extended song and to my surprise, he did not do that last night.

    And finally, I have tickets for this upcoming Tuesday when he does two nights at The Beacon Theater. I will report back then.

  3. I saw him twice on the Astral Weeks tour in NYC… and I wrote this review from the Beacon Theater, March 3, 2009

    The first half of this show found Van a little fussy, changing arrangements mid-song (!) and apparently catching the band by surprise throughout. He didn’t play as much harmonica as last Friday, and seemed to be constantly taking sips from several cups behind him. I wonder if the 2+ hour shows have been a little strain on his voice? But except for a few gravel-voiced tones in one song from the Astral Weeks set, I could hear no difference. The vocals were excellent all night. And his fussy behavior was gone during the Astral Weeks set. I do not mean, in any way, that the first set wasn’t less than excellent… just that Van seemed to be experimenting and fussing.

    There were a few other subtle differences from the Friday WaMu show: Guitarist Jay Berliner skipped the first half last night, there was a steel guitar added to the instrumental mix, and the bass player used an electric bass during the first set before returning to stand-up in the second set.

    Friday, Astral Weeks was in the same order as the album. Not so last night.

    Solid Ground
    Spirit
    Wild Night – During this song, he skipped singing some of the lyrics and substituted dah-dah-dah in their place. It was pretty funny.
    And It Stoned Me
    I Can’t Stop Loving You – He let the back-up singers handle the last third of the song while he chimed in vocally from time-to-time… and they can sing!
    Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)
    It’s All In The Game/You Know What They’re Writing About
    Queen of the Slipstream
    Moondance – Started with a long sax solo by Van let the back-ups handle the last third (as above) and the bass player got a solo.
    Have I Told You Lately?
    Comfortably Numb
    And The Healing Has Begun

    INTERMISSION

    Astral Weeks
    Beside You
    Slim Slow Slider – This was stretched out a bit during this concert, to amazing effect. The band rattled on, the arrangement got looser and more primitive, the bass player alternated between plucking the strings and simply banging on his stand-up, Van was clawing at his guitar, the energy built and built, until Van cut them all back to a quiet shuffle as he brought the song to a close. Stunning performance.
    Sweet Thing – Much like the previous song, this too was stretched out in a similar manner, though not as manic sounding.
    Cyprus Avenue
    Young Lovers Do
    Ballerina
    Madame George
    Common One – Also stretched out more than Friday, with the usual fun of the call-and-response challenge between Van & the sax player but as the song progressed, Van started a separate alternating call-and-response with the back-up singers… so he would sing one line for the sax player, who repeated it, and then the next line for the singers, then the sax player, etc. Van was playful and playing around.
    Mystic Eyes/Gloria

    Instead of a “real” encore, they just kind of kept playing. Van very briefly exited the stage between Common One & Mystic Eyes/Gloria, but it was for less than 30 seconds.

    The Astral Weeks set has obviously grown and evolved since Friday. Friday night sounded a little sharper and spikier, like a brittle music box and last night it was warmer, but both versions were mesmerizing and inspiring. I would love to be at the concerts in the UK in a couple of months to see how the second half of the show keeps evolving, but… no such luck.

    Van is better than ever.

  4. Am I the only one who thinks that this was one colossal mistake on Van’s part? To attempt this fully-realised work of art in its entirety at this stage of his career was to aim for something impossible. The passing of the years has not been kind to the voice. It is far less expressive; the wonder has gone; he cannot help but sound boorish whatever he says or sings, having been so cossetted and pampered for so long now; the physical fat around his vocal chords constricts and strangulates what used to be such a wonderful voice. To graft different songs onto these particular songs was such a mistake, and changes them to something much less than what they were. His guitar playing is also too insistent, and spoils the sound of the group. You can feel his control freakery in almost every part of the concert. Even the makeup he has on detracts from the experience. I love Van’s early to mid period stuff, but he hasn’t “transcended” the years, to my mind. Harsh, but it has to be said.

    1. Well, we like it a lot, the change in his voice makes it different but his singing is still great.

      Van Morrison has the same view on his art as several great artists (Bob Dylan, Neil Young for instance) that songs are a dynamic body of work, and they are never finished.
      The songs are just heard or experienced in different stages of completion (not that they will ever be “complete”).

      Astral Weeks the studio album is great, and it’s a snapshot of the songs at that particular moment. Astral Weeks Live at The Hollywood Bowl is another snapshot, at a different stage in the songs developement. We like them both, it is interesting to see/hear how Van Morrison’s art changes over time.

      ..but thanks for your feedback, even if I think you should give it one more try 🙂

      – Hallgeir

    2. I suspect one of the reasons he re-did this masterpiece was also to get more control over his royalty payments. Astral Weeks and Moondance are two albums he has no control over at all… and it still upsets him. Soon Warner Brothers will release a 4 CD set of all the outtakes from Moondance, and he is pretty upset about it but he has no legal recourse.

        1. I will have no problem buying it, except it might be expensive. Van is a miserable man. A few years ago he took legal action to shut down all the Van Morrison websites. Two of those sites had been up for 10 years! One of the webmasters was heartbroken. He is a miserable man who acts like his fans are a disease he has to put up with. I love his music & singing but if I saw him coming down the sidewalk I would cross to the other side. I have been a fan since 1970, seen him close to 20 times, but he is so unhappy… sigh… I wish he was as enlightened personally as he is when he sings

  5. My pleasure, Hallgeir – any opportunity to recall those 2 wonderful nights is most welcome!

  6. I was at those 2 concerts and they were truly amazing. The encore both nights, after Astral Weeks, was Listen to the Lion. Gloria and Common One were not part of the encore, they were part of the first sets – both nights there was an inspired opening set before an interval, then Astral Weeks Live. The first night opened with Wavelength, Saint Dominic’s Preview, and And The Healing Has Begun – if you love Van Morrison you will recognise that as simply astonishing. Other songs included gems like Angeliou, Troubadours, and Caravan, as well as ‘staples’ like Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl, All in the Game and Gloria. Common One was intriguing – like a truncated version of Summertime In England mixed with snippets of A Town Called Paradise. It is such a shame that the CD and DVD did not include these first sets in full, as they were both different (although some songs the same in both). And indeed, it should have included both nights of Astral Weeks Live, as there were significant differences in Van’s treatment of some of the songs between the 2 nights.

    1. I stand corrected, but I only reported what was on the DVD information on Wikipedia.

      I will of course correct the information.

      Thanks for giving us this great feedback, I will point readers of the post to your comments for more correct and full information.

      Thank you again.

      – Hallgeir

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