Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl is the controversial reworking of the classic album Astral Weeks in concert in November 2008 by Van Morrison.
Morrison took a big risk.
How do you improve perfection?
Astral Weeks is a magical record that lives up to Van’s promise…
“We are goin’ to heaven. In another time. In another place.” He sings and he delivers.
So why mess with it?
He told Rolling Stone contributing editor, David Wild…
“It received no promotion, from Warner Bros.—that’s why I never got to play the songs live. I had always wanted to play the record live and fully orchestrated—that is what this is all about. I always like live recording and I like listening to live records too. I’m not too fond of being in a studio—it’s too contrived and too confining. I like the freedom of live, in-the-moment sound.”
OK. I can see his point and I totally agree with his point about live albums versus those recorded in the studio.
But what do you want from Astral Weeks played live?
A note for note impersonation of the studio album… even though Van Morrison is forty years older and more experienced?
Or do you want him to play with the Astral Weeks songs so that you can hear different sounds, interpretations and inflexions?
You need to answer that question before buying Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
If you want the studio album… stick to the studio album. You won’t like Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl.
Van Morrison Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl – Overall Rating 28/30
All the songs on this live album are on Astral Weeks except for the last two.
You need to prepare yourself for hearing the songs in a different order. It surprised me.
You also need to understand that Van Morrison tacked extra songs onto the end of many of the original songs. The shorter songs are longer and the longer songs shorter.
I did warn you.
Here is the set list and the playing times on Astral Weeks Live compared with the studio recording.
- Astral Weeks – I Believe I’ve Transcended —6:32 – 3:24 (played first on the studio version – 7:06)
- Beside You”—5:59 (second – 5:16)
- Slim Slow Slider – I Start Breaking Down —4:08 – 3:37 (eighth and last – 3:17)
- Sweet Thing —5:38 (third – 4:25)
- The Way Young Lovers Do —3:18 (fifth – 3:18)
- Cyprus Avenue – You Came Walking Down —4:40 – 1:19 (fourth – 7:00)
- Ballerina – Move On Up —6:36 – 3:09 (seventh – 7:03)
- Madame George —8:43 (sixth – 9:45)
- Listen to the Lion – The Lion Speaks —5:15 – 2:28 (recorded on St Dominic’s Preview)
- Common One —6:39 (on Common One)
It’s seems very strange to hear Slim Slow Slider appear so early in the proceedings. It’s almost as if you’ve gone into an Astral Weeks induced trance and you’ve lost 30 minutes but then, after it finishes, Sweet Thing starts.
On both nights, to “warm up the audience”, Van Morrison performed a selection of his classics. It really would have been great if these had been included on the Astral Weeks Live album on a separate CD. I don’t think the world has enough live Van Morrison.
Wikipedia reports that the classic set lists were:
November 7 – “Wavelength”, “Saint Dominic’s Preview”, “And the Healing Has Begun”, “It’s All in the Game”/”You Know What They’re Writing About”, “Troubadours”, “Angeliou”, “Moondance”, “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria”.
November 8 – “Wavelength”, “Saint Dominic’s Preview”, “Caravan”, “It’s All in the Game”, “Here Comes the Night”, “And the Healing Has Begun”, “Common One”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, and “Gloria”.
It seems silly to moan but I miss Moondance from It’s Too Late To Stop Now. I look at those two set lists and I want them or at least a compilation of them together. At the moment Common One sounds a bit like the odd one out. I’ve no problem with Listen To The Lion because it has very much the same feel as Astral Weeks.
It’s 10/10 for the set list from me. I can’t see how I can give an album with all the tracks from one of my favourite studio albums anything less. I completely understand why Astral Weeks is regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made.
But I want more and I’m eager for the album to be re-released in an extended form.
Performance Rating – 9/10
Deciding to play Astral Weeks live is one thing.
The idea could collapse completely in the performance.
I gave you the warning earlier. Astral Weeks Live isn’t an exact copy of Astral Weeks in the studio and I’m very glad about that.
In the forty years since the original was recorded, Van Morrison’s voice has changed. Because he was never a conventional singer, his ageing suits him. There’s even more inflexion in his voice as he puts his heart, soul and life’s experiences into singing these songs. Some of his words are slurred but it works.
I’ve read elsewhere that Van Morrison’s voice is like fine malt whisky, it gets better as it ages. I’m inclined to agree.
Even though the arrangements are different, the impact is still mesmerising.
This can put me into a trance as quickly as any hippie with a joint.
The music on the original was a master-class in how blues, jazz and folk could be combined to create something unique. For Astral Weeks Live, Morrison uses a bigger band with beautiful string playing added into the mix. It really suits the mood of the album.
Once I’d got over my shock and even thoughts of sacrilege, this beautiful music won me over.
It’s always been an album that has beautiful contrasts as the instruments and Morrison’s voice interweave together. I’m always surprised how much I like the use of space and quiet in an album to maximise the emotional punch of the music.
Unfortunately there are little moments that are ugly but they quickly pass.
I can’t pick out one of two songs that stand out.
Astral Weeks has never worked like that which is why you can’t put Madame George on a Van Morrison compilation and have it sound anywhere near as good as it does in the proper setting.
Van Morrison has been very kind of posted plenty of videos from this concert on his YouTube channel and I’m going to feature more of them here.
Astral Weeks I Believe I’ve Transcended
Slim Slow Slider
The Way Young Lovers Do
Listen To The Lion from the same concert
The Common One
Atmosphere & Authenticity Rating – 9/10
The audience is spellbound.
And I would have been too, if I’d have been in the Hollywood Bowl on either of these two nights when Van Morrison was playing Astral Weeks live.
It’s music that demands respect so I’m glad that the applause and cheering is restricted.
And Morrison has never been chatty so he doesn’t break the mood by telling stories of the songs. I’d love to chat to Van about Astral Weeks but when you’re listening to it, you just want to drift away to a very special place where everything is perfect.
My only niggle is that this is Van Morrison singing as a 63 year old and not as the wide-eyed 23 year old who was first given these songs from Heaven by God.
Only Van The Man could perform Astral Weeks live. The mind shudders at others trying to do cover versions of these songs.
Total Rating For Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl by Van Morrison – 28/30
My big requirement to determine a live record is to answer one question…
Do I wish I’d been at the gig on the night the live album was recorded?
You bet I do.
It must have been a privilege to see and hear Van Morrison play Astral Weeks live at the Hollywood Bowl.
Something that would stay in your memory forever. Like the first kiss with the love of your life. Or the day you saw your children born.
I have one reservation.
I’m not sure what purpose this album serves.
If I want to play Astral Weeks, I think the temptation will be to play the studio album when the novelty of having the live recording wears off. (I may be wrong because I find the idea that this masterpiece can be played live immensely appealing.)
If I want to hear Van Morrison live, I’m more likely to turn to It’s Too Late To Stop Now or one of his other live albums.
The gap was there for a Van Morrison live album including Astral Weeks – much as Pink Floyd did with the Dark Side Of The Moon on Pulse.
Unfortunately the decision not to include the “classics set” has robbed us. I hope Van Morrison changes his mind and the entire experience is shared with those of us who couldn’t be at the Hollywood Bowl in November 2008.
It stops Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl being an essential purchase.
If you love Van Morrison, you need to get this album.
If you like Van Morrison, you need the three essential studio albums – Astral Weeks, Moondance and St Dominic’s Preview – and his live albums – It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast and A Night in San Francisco.
Then you’ll love Van Morrison and you’ll need to buy this album.
What Others Say About Astral Weeks Live
The original Astral Weeks is one of the most critically praised albums ever recorded.
It was inevitable that making any changes were going to be controversial.
It could have worked brilliantly – and I think it did – or it could have been a disaster.
Reviews on Amazon are generally very positive but there are some people who hate it.
I can understand. the first time I listen to Astral Weeks Live, I wondered what I’d done asking for it as a birthday present but it only couple of plays to accept that it’s a brilliant new interpretation.
Buying Astral Weeks Live At the Hollywood Bowl
You can buy the album from Amazon but at the time of writing, it isn’t available as an mp3 so you can’t hear samples. I hope they change that because it looks as if Van Morrison is nervous of people’s first impressions.
It is available from Amazon.com – Amazon.co.uk – eBay
It may have become available at iTunes
These links will help you get to the albums quickly and easily but I recommend that you still search for the best deal.
What Do You Think About Astral Weeks Live?
Do you agree with me that this is a great live album or do you agree with others that Van Morrison should never have tried to play such a classic in its entirety?
Leave me a comment with your opinion and vote in the poll.
Astral Weeks Songs On Other Van Morrison Live Albums
I’ve been planning a look at classic studio albums and how they’ve featured on live albums by the artists.
Unfortunately few of these songs have been captured on Van Morrison’s live albums.
Cyprus Avenue was extended to 10:20 on It’s Too Late To Stop Now ( from 7:00 on Astral Weeks).
Ballerina is performed on the 1980 Montreux concert that is included in the 2 disc DVD, Live At Montreux 1980/1974.
And that’s why Astral Weeks Live At the Hollywood Bowl is so important.
What Are The Best Live Albums Of All Time?
Please help me to find the best live albums by voting in the readers polls:
Click on the links to vote and to see the results so far.