Category: Van Morrison

Van Morrison brings 'Astral Weeks Live' back to L.A.

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Van Morrison’s 40-year anniversary live performances of his 1968 landmark album “Astral Weeks” have been accorded special event status in the various cities he’s visited since the world premiere concerts last fall at the Hollywood Bowl.

Among the old friends and admirers who turned out to catch “Astral Weeks” live at Royal Albert Hall recently in London were Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and Eric Clapton. Morrison and Clapton, despite a friendship going back 40 years, reportedly never had been photographed together before they paused for this shot.

Morrison brings “Astral Weeks” back to Southern California for three more performances May 7-9, this time indoors at the Orpheum Theater downtown, and a new block of orchestra seats for those dates are being released Friday.

While in L.A., the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member is scheduled to  make an appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Wednesday leading up to the May 19 release of the “Astral Weeks Live” DVD from the Bowl shows of which he described shortly after as “pure magic for me….It was more than I could have hoped for.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Listen to the Lions Films

Van Morrison will bring 'Astral Weeks' show back to California

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The resurrection of Van Morrison’s watershed 1968 album “Astral Weeks” in concert continues to expand with the Irish singer’s announcement of plans to bring it back to California in May for several more performances.

Morrison will present the work in its reconfigured entirety at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre on May 2 and 3 and then will return to Los Angeles for three more nights at the 2,000-seat Orpheum Theatre downtown May 7-9. The band and orchestra that will accompany him includes guitarist Jay Berliner, who played on the original recording sessions in New York four decades ago.

The world premiere performances of “Astral Weeks” live took place at the Hollywood Bowl over two nights in November. A CD was released last month, and a DVD from those shows is slated for April 7 release exclusively at Amazon.com.

A short time after the Hollywood Bowl performances, Morrison told The Times that the venue’s historic significance led him to choose it for the first live performances and as the site for the CD/DVD recording with the full orchestration he’d long had in mind.

“The orchestral arrangements just came alive -- the whole thing just worked,” he said after the Bowl shows. “We hit the stage and the Magi or whoever just waved the wand and we flew. Even now, listening to the live recording of the shows, I hear something different and profound every time I replay something. It took me a while to understand that we really did it, and made it into something even more different than it already was.”

Subsequently, he decided to add more shows in New York at Madison Square Garden and the Beacon Theatre, and has two more dates scheduled -- April 18 and 19 -- at London’s Royal Albert Hall before returning to the U.S. for the added shows in California. Tickets for both engagements go on sale to the public Sunday, while American Express cardholders can buy them early starting Wednesday.

— Randy Lewis

Photo: Van Morrison at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Nancy Pastor / Los Angeles Times

Van Morrison on bringing 'Astral Weeks' shows to NYC

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Van Morrison said that his Hollywood Bowl shows in November would be the only time he would perform his classic 1968 album “Astral Weeks” live.

But that was before the two performances, which he says in an exclusive Times interview, "was more than I could have hoped for."

“The whole thing just worked,” he told The Times by e-mail. “One rehearsal -- that was not even that good -- and we hit the stage and the Magi or whoever just waved the wand and we flew.

“Even now listening to the live recording of the shows,” he wrote, “I hear something different and profound every time I replay something. It took a while for me to understand that we really did it, and made it into something even more different than it already was.... I do believe I transcended something doing this. Not sure what it is, but I still feel it.”

Consequently, he’s adding two more “Astral Weeks” shows in New York next month, Feb. 27 and 28 at Madison Square Garden. For the first half of those shows, Morrison said he’ll be delving further into the music he was writing leading up to the release of “Astral Weeks,” some of which appeared on the Bang Records album “Blowin’ My Mind.” That collection included his first solo hit, “Brown-Eyed Girl,” but was released without his input or approval. So expect major revamping of those songs.

“I am reworking set one to play 'TB Sheets,' 'Mystic Eyes' and 'Who Drove the Red Sports Car' and a couple of Them songs I have not done in decades, so it is once again fresh and new and interesting for me,” Morrison said. “So we will venture into the slipstream one more time.”

Read the complete story here.

--Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Nancy Pastor / For The Times

Van Morrison's 'Astral Weeks' live album coming later than expected

Van__ Van Morrison fans who waited 40 years to hear the first live performances of his 1968 album "Astral Weeks" last month at the Hollywood Bowl will have to hold out a few more weeks for the live recording from the recent concerts.

Morrison originally announced plans to release a vinyl LP edition of the live set by Christmas, with a CD and DVD to follow after the first of the year.

A spokesman for the Rock and Hall of Fame musician said Tuesday that it might be February before the recording is ready, in part because Morrison is considering a follow-up “Astral Weeks” concert in New York in the new year.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Nancy Pastor / For the Times

Live review: Van Morrison at the Hollywood Bowl

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For anyone who wasn't at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night, there'd be little chance of explaining how Van Morrison's repetition of one seemingly innocuous sentence -- "This is a train" -- could turn into a deeply spiritual incantation.

But transcendence is what Morrison has been after with his music from the beginning, and it's what he achieved frequently on Friday, when he played his watershed 1968 album "Astral Weeks" live in its entirety for the first time. That included the repetitive vocal workout on the "train" phrase from "Madame George," one of the cornerstone songs of "Astral Weeks," an empathetic portrait of a transvestite's journey through the streets of Belfast, Morrison's birthplace.

To these ears, it evolved from statement ("This is a train") to question ("Is this a train?") to invitation/command ("Get on the train!"), an intensely moving progression that crystallized his alchemist's approach to music.

He's long known the power of a mantra -- the chanting of a word, phrase or verse has become a potent signature of his music. Every good gospel preacher knows the cumulative power of repetition. Morrison doesn't preach, he seeks -- an answer, or communion -- and the chant becomes his method in relentless pursuit of one or both. When everyday language just wouldn't do, he shifted to syllables, growls, moans, sometimes just phonemes, anything that would take him, and his audience, where he wanted to go.

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Van Morrison's full Q&A on 'Astral Weeks'

Vanmo450_2 In-depth interviews with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Van Morrison are exceedingly few and far between. But in conjunction with his performances Nov. 7 and 8 at the Hollywood Bowl, where he’ll perform his 1968 album “Astral Weeks” in its entirety for the first time anywhere, along with other songs from throughout his career, he agreed to respond by e-mail to questions from Times staff writer Randy Lewis. The feature story will appear in Saturday's Calendar; the following is the full text of that Q&A.

What combination of opportunity and motivation was behind the decision to revisit "Astral Weeks" in a live setting now?

I am not “revisiting” it, as this is a totally different project. I had always wanted to do these songs fully orchestrated and live. I never got around to it -- then I thought, well, we have lost the great [drummer] Connie Kay already and Larry Fallon the original arranger –- so I thought I should probably get to it now. Jay [Berliner] and Richard [Davis] have never done it fully orchestrated and live before either so I see it as a new project.

Update: In the paragraph above, we originally identified Connie Kay as the bassist. He was the drummer on "Astral Weeks."

What's your thought at this stage of your career about the boldness of a 22-year-old Belfast musician with some rock hits to his credit going into a New York studio with the likes of Downbeat's jazz bassist of the year [Richard Davis], the Modern Jazz Quartet's drummer [Connie Kay] and one of Charles Mingus' collaborators [guitarist Jay Berliner]?

Well, first, I think I have probably always been more advanced in my head, in my thinking, than the calendar age of 22. My thinking musically has always been more advanced -- it is difficult to get it down onto paper sometimes, even now. And the Music on “Astral Weeks” required these great musicians because no one else could have pulled it off like they did. There is another reason, too, and that is the fact I did not settle for anyone other than these guys -- they were the ones I insisted on.

What, if any, contact has there been with Richard Davis and Jay Berliner (or Kay before his death in 1994) over the years?

Connie Kay called me a lot over the years, on a regular basis. He was the drummer on “Tupelo Honey” and “Listen to the Lion.” He is also on several recordings I did in the '80s, numbers I have not released yet. Connie was the best drummer I have run across yet. The original arranger, Larry Fallon, kept in touch with me over the years, but we had lost contact with him, unfortunately. I actually called him for this project, but I found out he had passed away not too long ago. That was a shame -- he was a great arranger. He seemed to understand this music -- which is rare and is not easy to do. I was in touch with Richard a few times over the years.

The circumstances that brought you to the East Coast of the U.S. at the time [in 1968]?

I had been with Bert Berns’ Bang Records label, and I didn’t get paid, so I was living on a shoestring -- a very hand-to-mouth existence at that time -- in Boston and for a long time after that too. I went down to New York and this is when I got the offer from Warner Brothers. They had told me they had to buy out the Bang deal. Then I got involved with [producer Lewis] Merenstein, et al. The real reason I made Astral Weeks Recordings in New York is because I was literally broke and they kept me stranded there.

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