Van Morrison - Astral Weeks Live

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... at the Hollywood Bowl.  If it matters.

I came to Van Morrison rather late as a fan, though it's notable he's continued actively as a respected recording artist since his heyday in the late 60's/early 70's.  He's one of those artists whose songs add variety to the radio - "Gloria," "Brown-eyed Girl," etc., and to the average listener, these probably hold no greater attention than possibly a greatest hits CD or, in this age, a few iTunes downloads.

iTuned in with "Down the Road," a 2002 bluesy release that for a number of lyrical and musical reasons suited my ears.  This was followed by "What's Wrong with This Picture?" in 2004, as energetic an effort with a jazzy tone throughout and superb musicianship.  Later releases didn't compel me as much as these two, but when I learned that he had recorded one of his two most highly regarded albums live (the other being Moondance), I was intrigued.

Why?  The entirety never before performed live - several of the original musicians - effusive reviews - jazzy treatments - extended songs to let vanmorrisonthe music fill out the mood...  sure, sounds good.

But it doesn't sound that good to me.  Long term fans who appreciated the original Astral Weeks may well favor a refreshed look at an old favorite.  But for me, despite the expected excellent musicianship, all I can hear is an artist who doesn't respect his work or his talent.

Listening to Van Morrison in one sense is to appreciate mood.  He excels at that.  And the mood or tone almost always suits the lyric.  But understanding those words is the challenge.  Even in his studio work, separating his consonants from the vowels can be a challenge.  Live, however, it's fairly hopeless.  To be generous, one could say that he affects a certain style by slurring his words and growling the dominating consonants in words or sentences.  

But that's being far too generous.  Simply, he comes across either as a man so full of self-regard that he believes the audience should be honored to hear him or... he's just lazy. 

I think it's the former for a couple reasons.  One is that most of his recent albums include at least one song reflecting on "woe is the life of the celebrity rock star."  Though likely a true sentiment, he's not exactly Sir Paul or the Boss.  In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone recognizing him outside of a recording studio.

More telling is the most annoying inclusion on this CD, that being a fellow band mate shouting his adoration to the audience such as "Vannnnnnnnnnnnnnn Morrison!"  and "Van THE Mannnnnnnnnnnnn!" ad infinitum.  Audiences are free to do so, and usually do.  But to basically ask for it?

Given that Van Morrison has a reputation for being very precise on his expectations from his session players, this proclamation of his greatness could not have come as any surprise, and if it did, I have to think the offending microphone could have easily been nixed before releasing the performance as a CD.  For the fans who were there, I'm sure they enjoyed the show and this makes an excellent souvenir.  For everyone else, save your cash or, better, buy the classic.

Rating: 1 Star 

1 comment :

  1. I have always enjoyed the music of Van Morrison, well let me re-word that, for a LONG time I have enjoyed it.You can't deny the timless hit's that have come from Van, but I have a hard time getting past the seemingly non-appreciative way he always appears to act, when seen live. Could it STILL be that stage frieght from way back in the "Them" days? May be, but to not even address, or acknowledge the audience you are preforming to is unacceptable behavior in Mickey's world.