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
2. Saint Dominic's Preview
3. And the Healing Has Begun
4. All in the Game/You Know What They're Writing About
8. Brown Eyed Girl
10. Astral Weeks
11. Beside You
12. Slim Slow Slider
13. Sweet Thing
14. The Way Young Lovers Do
15. Cyprus Avenue
17. Madame George
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.