Album Review: Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl by Van Morrison
Excellent, Based on 7 Critics
Entertainment Weekly - 86 Based on rating A-
This re-creation of Van Morrison’s 1968 classic, recorded in November, finds Van’s voice deeper and throatier, but no less prone to glossolalia and playful stuttering. The strings, flute, etc., are all present on Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, albeit mixed more subtly into the acoustic-jam arrangements than on the original LP. All this deceptively timeless fluidity induces a wonderful mystic fog that might make you forget whether you’re honoring a 40th, 5th, or 100th anniversary.
The once and future classic Van Morrison is a notoriously spotty live performer—irascible, easily bored, hard-headed and occasionally brilliant. It’s Too Late to Stop Now is an early-career (1974) live masterpiece, but Van’s last concert recording—1994’s One Night in San Francisco—found him curiously uninvolved, turning over many of the vocal duties to his back-up singers. Fortunately, Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl reveals a newly energized Van at the top of his game, fully engaged in the proceedings, and ready and able to sail into the mystic.
Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl is not Astral Weeks, but it's honest and intense. Morrison not only inhabits these songs 40 years later, but sings from a place where he understands them and remains fascinated by what they reveal. This This artist, who is sometimes disinterested in his own work still has plenty of fire in his belly when he wants to draw on it.
There is no orthodoxy any more. Where once there was an accepted hierarchy of bands and albums, these days everything is perpetually shifting. This applies as readily to the old as to the new. Previously imperious "classic" albums are now grappling with the ever-increasing demands of the download and deluxe markets.
In 1968 Van Morrison released Astral Weeks to great critical acclaim. Ten years later Lester Bangs wrote a fervent appraisal of its enduring power. In his critique in Stranded, Bangs posits the music against the tumultuous socio-political landscape of the late ‘60s”: “It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self destructive undertow that had always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in its maw and was pulling straight down.
Van Morrison’s recent live rendition of one of the 20th century’s greatest and most bracing rock/pop recordings, Astral Weeks, is nowhere near as monolithically moving or powerful as the spiritual whirlpool of the 1968 original. And how could it be? Astral Weeks, quite simply, was already perfect upon its release more than forty years ago. That said, Morrison has always been as much an aural and artistic journeyman he is a spiritual seeker, and it’s that jazzman’s sense of exploration and discovery that keeps Astral Weeks Live from sinking into a boot-sucked quagmire of soggy, baby-boomed nostalgia and queasy, cheese-soaked reworkings.
The notion of Van Morrison releasing a song-by-song live update of his classic Astral Weeks album recorded over two nights recently at the Hollywood Bowl seems like a wrong-headed venture, if not entirely pointless. It would be difficult enough for an artist improving with age to summon the spirit and creative spark that originally resulted in a great work 40 years after the fact, and Morrison's well past his prime. [rssbreak] He rushes through the tunes, slurring syllables as if enunciating the lyrics would be too much work even if he could remember all of them.