On The Download: Van Morrison

Van Morrison, March 2008 at the South By Southwest music festival Van Morrison, March 2008 at the South By Southwest music festival

Van Morrison has been a staple in my life since the day I was born. He’s always been my dad’s favorite, so I grew up listening to him (whether I liked it or not). And my dad would be very glad to know… I did like it. As a mixture of jazz, soul, and Celtic/folk fusion, Van Morrison is one of those artists that have a little something for everyone.

I’ve seen him in concert a few times before, but when I found out he was performing at the Hollywood Bowl, I was excited about going to the concert for a couple reasons: I had never been to the Hollywood Bowl before, and… Van was revisiting his seminal 1968 album, “Astral Weeks.”

For the man who has released over 35 solo studio albums in his career, Van Morrison remains the consummate professional. When the tickets say his show starts at seven o’clock, he means seven. Opening with the upbeat “Wavelength,” the deceptively calm audience went crazy when he came out on stage wearing his dark suit, loosened tie, and signature sunglasses (which he likely wears due to his chronic stage fright). Though, you wouldn’t know he suffers from stage fright watching him perform. He is in complete control of the audience and everything around him.

Seeing as how he has hundreds of songs in his repertoire and he wasn’t promoting a specific album, I was curious to see what songs he would perform. I was glad to hear the sweet sound of the mandolin as he began to sing “St. Dominic’s Preview,” which was immediately followed by “Caravan.” Towards the end of his first half, he surprised the audience by singing a song he rarely ever performs on stage: the ever-popular “Brown Eyed Girl.” Needless to say, the fans went wild singing along with him. After that, he busted out another Van the Man classic: “Gloria,” a song he originally recorded with his band Them.

After the 15-minute break, he came back on to perform his entire album, “Astral Weeks.” This performance (along with the previous night’s performance) will be released as a live album and DVD.

I know I’ve only seen him in concert a few times, but I can honestly say, Van has never sounded better. At 63, his voice is still a strong presence and just as soulful as it ever was. The live “Astral Weeks” was thoroughly enjoyable from “Beside You” to “Ballerina” to “Madame George” (a song supposedly about a transvestite from Belfast… Who knew? Thanks for that random fact, dad.)

The difference between the original album and Van’s live rendition is that back then, it seemed his voice was more urgent and strident. And the songs were more stripped down. This time around, it was more mellow and passionate because of his wisdom and experience. It was also much more musical and melodious with the 13 musicians he had on stage with him.

For his encore, he came back out to sing, “Listen to the Lion.” But once he exited the stage yet again, although the crowd kept cheering and wanting more, that was the last song of the evening.

Not a bad way to close out Hollywood Bowl’s 2008 season.