Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks: Live At The Hollywood Bowl” Chronicles the First-Ever Live Performance of Legendary Soul Singer’s Revered 1968 Album
Multi-award winning soul singer and musical legend Van Morrison is set to release “Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” an in-concert reworking of his historic 1968 gold-certified solo album. Recorded live over two nights at the Hollywood Bowl this past Nov. 7 and 8, the album marks the premiere release on Mr. Morrison’s new EMI-distributed label, Listen to the Lion Records. “Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl” arrives in stores Feb. 10, 2009. A double-vinyl edition with three bonus tracks (including a live version of “Gloria”) arrives in stores the same day.
The concerts marked the first time Mr. Morrison ever performed “Astral Weeks” in one complete concert set. Joining him was an orchestral string section and a band composed of world-class musicians, some of whom played with Van on the original “Astral Weeks” sessions 40 years ago. Tracks on the CD include: “Astral Weeks/I Believe I’ve Transcended,” “Beside You,” “Slim Slow Slider/ I Start Breaking Down,” “Sweet Thing,” “The Way Young Lovers Do,” “Cyprus Avenue / You Came Walking Down,” “Ballerina,” “Madame George” and two bonus tracks, “Listen to the Lion / The Lion Speaks” and “Common One.”
The Hollywood Bowl concerts gave me a welcome opportunity to perform these songs the way I originally intended them to be,” says Mr. Morrison, who amazingly held only one rehearsal prior to the concerts. “There are certain dynamics you can get in live recordings that you just cannot get in a studio recording. I love listening to live recordings. You get the whole thing right there, unabridged, raw and in the moment. There was a distinct alchemy happening on that stage in Hollywood. I felt it.”
To rework “Astral Weeks,” Mr. Morrison added his signature stretching of songs in a manner unlike any before by creating new sections of songs live on stage. As producer of the record, Morrison insisted there be no post-production engineering. It is straight up raw from the Hollywood Bowl stage – pure resonant sound.
“These songs are timeless and as fresh today as the day they were written, actually even more so,” Mr. Morrison added . “I was happy to perform them at the Hollywood Bowl and delighted to release a live album which really captures the essence of the original for today’s audiences with every taste in music. It’s got it all, jazz, blues, folk, classic. You name it.”
Fans and critics present at the Hollywood Bowl those two nights grasped the momentous nature of the concerts. Rolling Stone Magazine noted that Mr. Morrison “took charge of the music with the authority that comes with four decades of performing. 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.” Added the Los Angeles Times, “Transcendence is what Morrison has been after with his music from the beginning… the wondrous youthful timbre of his voice… has evolved over the years into a richer, fuller instrument, with every bit of its remarkable elasticity very much intact.”
Unbeknownst to Mr. Morrison at the time he planned the Hollywood Bowl shows, the concerts coincided exactly with the 40th anniversary of the release of “Astral Weeks.” He took it as a sign this project was destined to be. Universally regarded as one of the most important albums in pop music history, “Astral Weeks” broke new ground with its experimental free-flowing arrangements and deeply reflective songs. Mr. Morrison’s motivation to rework the music was to get back to his original signature sound: a blend of jazz, blues, classical and folk unique to Van Morrison.
Both Bowl shows were filmed in high-definition, and will later be available as a commercial DVD concert film. Due to overwhelming demand, Mr. Morrison will perform “Astral Weeks” again, in show at the Theater at New York’s Madison Square Garden, on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 27 & 28. Accompanied by two different bands, Mr. Morrison will play two sets per show: one of “Astral Weeks” cover to cover, the other of rarely played Van Morrison classics. He may even pull out rare gems “TB Sheets,” “Mystic Eyes,” “Who Drove the Red Sports Car” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Mr. Morrison is responsible for some of the greatest recordings of the last fifty years. A Belfast native of proud Scottish heritage, he grew up listening to American music with his parents, his favorites artists being greats like Ledbelly, Mahalia Jackson, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other legends of blues and soul. With more than 200 of his compositions featured in major motion pictures over the years, Mr. Morrison was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame by the late Ray Charles in June 2003.
As Mr. Morrison said, “I’m not just a singer. I am a soul singer.” His “Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl” proves exactly that, over and over again.