When Van Morrison's second solo album, Astral Weeks, hit shelves in 1968, it was a commercial failure. But in the following decades, the mystical-themed album has become one of Morrison's most beloved, influencing everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2. ("Astral Weeks was like a religion to us," E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt has said.) "The songs are timeless," says Morrison. "They remain unchanged and are as fresh today as they ever were." On November 7th and 8th, Morrison will celebrate the record's 40th anniversary by reuniting with surviving members of the studio band to perform the album in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl. (The performances are being recorded for a live album due out next year.) We caught up with Morrison to talk about the shows and the album's legacy. "I don't really know why people love it," he says. "I do know there is nothing like it available now, nor was there anything like it then."
How did the Astral Weeks concerts come about?
I had always wanted to do these songs live with orchestration. I thought I should probably get to it now — it's time.
Why do you think the album remains such a favorite?
Maybe it speaks something to some people — I don't know. All I know is that it was a lot of hard work to make. I worked on crafting the material for years before the 1968 sessions. At the time, I was just creating: honing my songwriting and picking out words that go well with other words — and working with the musical arrangements. The album is sophisticated poetry that I set to multilayered musical arrangements; dynamic melodies course through every song.
Why did you choose Astral Weeks to perform in this special way — 40 years after its first release?
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.
How does it feel to reunite with bassist Richard Davis and guitarist Jay Berliner, who played on the original?
It's great. I require musicians of that caliber to understand my arrangements and to bring them to life. I didn't want to settle for anything less than those who played on the original — I wish they were all still around. Connie Kay is the best drummer I have run across yet, and the strings arranger, Larry Fallon, had a great understanding of the music too. Those players on the 1968 record were great; we just kept playing straight on through at the recording session — we did not stop. With other musicians, we might have never gotten off the ground.
If you enjoy these concerts, will there be more shows in other cities?
I am doing these shows to get the live recordings with the full orchestration. I doubt there will be any more Astral Weeks shows after this one.
Are there any other albums that you would like to revisit in concert?
Just new ones.
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Also See: Astral Weeks