Van Morrison’s recent live rendition of one of the 20th century’s greatest and most bracing rock/pop recordings, Astral Weeks, is nowhere near as monolithically moving or powerful as the spiritual whirlpool of the 1968 original. And how could it be? Astral Weeks, quite simply, was already perfect upon its release more than forty years ago.
That said, Morrison has always been as much an aural and artistic journeyman he is a spiritual seeker, and it’s that jazzman’s sense of exploration and discovery that keeps Astral Weeks Live from sinking into a boot-sucked quagmire of soggy, baby-boomed nostalgia and queasy, cheese-soaked reworkings. Throughout Morrison’s two-night stint at the Hollywood Bowl, he threw himself into bluesy, wrenching reinterpretations of the original folk-tinged Celtic masterworks, discovering new meanings and alleyways within songs such as the soul-burned and guitar-twisted “Cyprus Avenue,” the vocally charged “Ballerina” and the harrowing acoustics and howls of “Madame Georgia.”
That still might not make it as shatteringly important and epochal as its 1968 precursor, but at its weary, lovely close, it becomes clear that Live belongs not to the listener but to the artist who created it. And that makes this album one of the most vital and electric he’s made in years.