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Van Morrison's Astral Weekend

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Van Morrison fans have gotten used to a fairly dependable routine when the man comes to town: a main set made up of primarily brand-new material, a perfunctory couple of hits for an encore, and out. That tendency makes this weekend's appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, at which he will re-create the legendary album Astral Weeks in its entirety, all the more special.

For this occasion, Morrison is splitting the show into two parts, as Brian Wilson did when he brought Pet Sounds and SMiLE to the Bowl in 2001 and 2005 respectively. His regular band will back him during the opening set of hits, but for the second, Astral half, he'll be joined by guitarist Jay Berliner and bassist Richard Davis, both of whom played on the original album, and monster jazz drummer Peter Erskine replacing the departed Connie Kaye.

Astral Weeks remains a striking record, unique in the Morrison catalog for its breezy, stream-of-consciousness flow. Just a few years earlier, Morrison had written the boilerplate for garage rock with his group Them, shout-swaggering Mick-style over a relentless three-note stomp that inspired a million juvenile delinquents to steal guitars. But for this record, he went completely the other way, delivering a gentle, sophisticated, lushly poetic album perfect for the psychedelic comedown. While Gloria and Brown-Eyed Girl were custom made for the transistor radio, Astral Weeks was made for hi-fi headphone listening with eyes closed. Bringing back the original session players is a big part of the attraction, as the band on that record sounds like no other you've ever heard, neither solid, liquid or gas all the time, but shape-shifting as the moment requires. He'd never do anything else anything like it.

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KCRW will bebroadcasting Friday's opening set live, but not the tantalizing Astral Weeks set; those are being recorded for a live album for Van's own Listen To The Lion Records, due on vinyl in December with a CD to follow shortly after.

So, forty years on, we have a chance to find out what a 1968 Van Morrison tour might have been like if he'd had the resources to do it properly. This trend of old musicians playing their best albums from front to back has produced some incredible shows here in LA and this rare chance to catch Van Morrison looking back is one that shouldn't be ignored.

Photo courtesy of anna (at work) on Flickr

Van Morrison Presents Astral Weeks
Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8
Hollywood Bowl | 2301 North Highland Ave
Tickets: $75 to $350 /Ticketmaster.