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Van Morrison's Astral Weeks at the Hollywood Bowl, Night One: Set List for a Stunning Evening

by Randall Roberts
November 8, 2008 11:05 AM

avan.jpg
photo by Kevin Scanlon

Sell the rest of your portfolio. Forgo fancy dinners for the rest of November. Break your lame date and call your soul mate. Do what you have to do, I swear, to get a ticket to tonight's Van Morrison show at the Hollywood Bowl. If you at all have ever been moved by a Morrison song, if you've wondered whether age has worn his voice, tore away at his heart or passion, you should make a pilgrimage.

Last night he answered. It was everything you'd want out of such a performance: he played his 1968 album Astral Weeks with a what seemed like a 144-piece orchestra -- strings and brass and bells and flutes and guitars. (I think I counted 18 or so, but it's a blur.) Xylophone tones cascaded up the slope of the Bowl as if carried on chariots, strings slithered and swirled through the air, horns brayed. At one point Morrison cranked on his white acoustic guitar like he was Joe Strummer.

And, of course, that voice, purer, stronger, heartier, and way way crazier than ever. He went places no sane human could visit: deep, gutteral, angry, cornered-prize-fighter places. He whinnied, he honked, he trilled, he baaa-ed like a baby lamb, machine-gunned. He pushed mumbles through his harmonica solos, conjured Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, grunted out lyrics. During "Slim Slow Slider," the words rolled out of his mouth with anguish: "I know you're dying baby/and I know you know it too/everytime I see you I just don't know what to do." During "Cyprus Avenue," his "tuh-tuh-t-t-tuh-t-tongue" got "ta-t-t-t-ta-tied" as he spit out his story.

What made it so magical, though, was the beauty that surrounded Morrison's voice, the lush yet loose arrangements that simultaneously drew on Nashville and Memphis, London and Dublin, New Orleans, New York and Chicago. The trio of vocalists doubled on bells and guitars, the band offered xylophones (granted, they were synthesized), a harpsichord, piano, precise percussion (that ever present high-hat, grooving above the fray), stand-up bass, violin. They didn't miss a note.

I'm angling for a ticket for tonight's show, so if anybody's got an extra, holler. Because if he plays "T.B. Sheets" in that first set and I miss it, I just don't know what I'd do.

Need further incentive? LA Weekly film critic Scott Foundas sat down with Morrison at the Beverly Hills Hotel last week. It's a fantastic piece. Also: check Lester Bangs' brilliant essay on Astral Weeks.

Van Morrison, Hollywood Bowl, November 7, 2008

1. Wavelength
2. Saint Dominic's Preview
3. And the Healing Has Begun
4. All in the Game/You Know What They're Writing About
5. Troubadours
6. Angelou
7. Moondance
8. Brown Eyed Girl
9. Gloria

break

Astral Weeks
10. Astral Weeks
11. Beside You
12. Slim Slow Slider
13. Sweet Thing
14. The Way Young Lovers Do
15. Cyprus Avenue
16. Ballerina
17. Madame George

encore
18. Listen to the Lion

Editor's note: Morrison jumbled the order of Astral Weeks on Friday night; my initial setlist copied the album's order, but I've corrected it above. This is the order in which he played the album.

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There are 6 comments posted for this article.

great review of a great show. however, you've got the second set incorrectly sequenced. last night they moved 'slim slow slider' and 'ballerina' up in the order of things.

I attended Van's concert on Friday night at the Bowl and I wish to point out an inaccuracy in Randall Roberts's set list. I think it's important that you let Weekly readers and Van Morrison fans know that the songs in the Astral Weeks set were not performed in the order that they appeared on that magnificent 1968 recording.

The order of the Astral Weeks songs on Friday night was in fact:

"Astral Weeks"
"Beside You"
"Slim Slow Slider"
"Sweet Thing"
"The Way Young Lovers Do"
"Cypress Avenue"
"Ballerina"
"Madame George"

Slainte.

Hi There,
I have been a very big fan from day 1 buying all of his albums & i must say that "ASTRAL WEEKS" has to be my favourite album of all times, i would have loved to have been there maybe next time if ever there is one.
Your Biggest Fan Mark Lawry.

We were fortunate to have attended both shows coming from Detroit and they were worth all the money in the world for a true Van-atic.
Both shows were stellar and featured some of the most memorable setlists and classics along with the first ever live Astral Weeks cover to cover presentation.
When this comes out on DVD and CD in late December it's a must have.

Damn, this must have been fuckin brilliant!!! He also played my favorite Van Morrison song EVER, 'Beside You' :-(

Well what more can be said. I have seen Morrison over 250 shows across the UK and Europe from 1975 to October 2008. I flew to LA on Saturday knowing the voice was intact and recent shows very very good. My expectations were high ever since David Hayes told me 5 years ago they were thinking of a live show covering the album.

On the night and on reflection the show was the best - better than Oxford with Georgie Fame et all in the early 90's, the Ronnie Scott shows a couple of years ago where I sat with my feet on his monitor and countless other shows where he has excelled.

And why? It's all to do with the quality of the songs as well as the performance. The musical style was as expected - very well executed with the balance of improvisation as it should be, with no excess but taking you places you wish for at the start of every show.

I understand the changing of the order for the reasons other have set out but wish he had left alone - was I the only one hoping he might end with a 45 minute version of Slim Slow Slider as originally recorded? But thats a minor quibble since in both sets there were only highlights and with the Astral Weeks set the band and Van were taking us to another world. To encore with Listen To The Lion worked perfectly.

I don't know what I do now - I doubt any future show will be the same - but will I go - of course I will. After all it's in the soul.

Jim