Review: Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” at the Hollywood Bowl

Above: Van the Man’s down on “Cypress Avenue.”

By Joel Francis

If Van Morrison’s 1968 release “Astral Weeks” is the album of a lifetime, then watching him perform it live in its entirety is the chance of a lifetime.

Kansas City’s own Irish troubadour Eddie Delahunt took advantage of that opportunity and booked a trip to see Van Morrison perform his seminal album on November 8, the last of two nights at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

“It was historic,” Delahunt said. “I’ve seen Van before, and sometimes he can be grumpy with the material. This was the best I’d seen him. He played it straight and true. You could see he was real with it.”

Morrison opened the night by revisiting some of his bigger numbers, like “Gloria” and “Brown Eyed Girl” and lesser-known album cuts like “And the Healing Has Begun” and “Summertime in England.”

“‘Caravan’ was great, but there were no leg kicks like in ‘The Last Waltz,'” Delahunt said with a laugh, referring to Morrison’s performance in the 1978 Martin Scorsese film about The Band. “During ‘The Healing Game’ he did a little back-and-forth (call and response) with Richie Buckley on sax, trying to trip him up.”

Delahunt’s $250 terrace seats placed him dead center, about 40 yards from the stage. He said the high prices – tickets started at $350 – kept the crowd over 30 years old and the bowl under capacity.

“Van had the crowd in his hands for the first set,” Delahunt said. “Then they took a 15 minute break to rearrange the stage for ‘Astral Weeks’ and Van ran it straight through.”

For “Astral Weeks,” Morrison’s band, which was assembled in a semi-circle around him, was augmented by a three-piece string section and “Astral Weeks” album guitarist Jay Berliner. Original session bassist Richard Davis was also scheduled to join the group, but a last-minute family emergency kept him away.

Morrison shuffled the album’s order, slipping the closer “Slim Slow Slider” into the third spot and coupling the upbeat jazz numbers “Sweet Thing” and “The Way Young Lovers Do” into a powerful one-two punch.

“Everyone loved ‘Madame George,’ but ‘Cypress Avenue’ was the best for me. He played it closest to the album and you could see he was enjoying it,” Delahunt said. “During a song like ‘Slim Slow Slider,’ he wasn’t just playing the harmonica, but humming into it.”

Morrison closed the evening with an one-song encore of “Listen To the Lion” and a twist on an old phrase.

“As Van said at the end,” Delahunt recalled, “‘You made a happy man very old.'”

Note: The performance was filmed for future release on DVD. Catch Eddie Delahunt in concert by checking out his concert calendar.

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