Astral Weeks Live at Hollywood Bowl: A Moment

Posted: December 30th, 2023 | Filed under: Music, Rock & Roll Rewind, Ruminations | No Comments »

I’m a rock & roll lifer. I’ve got lots of stories. Here’s another.

Sometimes the stars and planets just align.

Like November 7, 2008.

The tale begins a few months earlier. Before a David Byrne show at the Palace.

Newly betrothed, the Film Babe and I ran into some old pals, who are as musically obsessed as we.

To learn that Van Morrison would be performing the entirety of “Astral Weeks” live, for the first time ever. At the Hollywood Bowl a few months later.

My recent bride and I looked at each other and had the same thoughts.

Favorite singer. Favorite album. Bucket List venue.

Plus, we hadn’t yet had a chance to do any sort of honeymooning thing.

The cherry on the sundae came when we went online immediately upon getting home, to discover tickets were still available. In the 3d row.

(Often promoters hold tickets back for VIPs, etc, then release them to the public. It was our lucky day.)

How Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” came about is a fascinating tale.

He had moved to America after leaving Them, the Irish R&B infused band in which Van sang lead. He’d made a few records for Bert Berns at Bang. But ended up sort of hiding out in Boston, because he and the mobster who eventually owned his song rights got in a physical fight.

Eventually the all too many times told story of contractual disputes were resolved, The singer moved to NYC, where Warner Brothers booked studio time. Instead of getting rockers to back up Van, producer Lewis Merenstein signed an ensemble of top shelf jazz masters. Bassist Richard Davis. Former Mingus sideman Jay Berliner on guitar, On traps, Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quartet, who had also done R&B session work for Atlantic.

Legend is there were no rehearsals. Morrison strummed through the chord changes a couple of times, said let’s record. Then went into a booth with no other interaction.

Out of wherever, those odd circumstances resulted in a brilliant, emotionally resonant masterpiece, universally acknowledged as one of the best LPs ever.

If I ventured in the slipstream/ Between the viaducts of your dreams/ Where the mobile steel rims crack/ And the ditch and the backroads stop/ Could you find me/ Would you kiss my eyes/ And lay me down/ In silence easy/ To be born again

From those poetic lyrics of the opening title tune through Richard Davis iconic bass outro of “Slim Slow Slider,” as famous as any in pop music, through the visions and extrapolations of Van Morrison’s youth and inner angst, the album never fails.

When we got to the Hollywood Bowl, the ticket taker, realizing we didn’t know where we were going, said, “You’ll really like these seats.” Which were indeed front and center.

Morrison did two sets. The first included “Wavelength,” “Saint Dominic’s Preview,” “Caravan,” “Here Comes The Night,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Gloria,” and a couple others. A satisfying evening itself.

Then the entirety of the album, out of order, full with all of his trademark scat and saxophonic riffing, short excursions to other songs of his from different releases, brilliant backup. Including Berliner who played on the album.

It was exquisite. A mature perspective of the subject matter forty years on. Bliss.

A moment.

We were carried to Cypress Avenue and beyond. Transcended.

— c d kaplan

Leave a Comment