Nothing short of miraculous.
Chris Jones 2009
Recorded over two nights in 2008, this live reprisal of Van Morrison's most critically lauded album is one hell of a surprise. For a man whose truculence and seemingly inexorable down-shifting into some kind of pub blues/jazz act had made most of his long time fans despair that he'd anything really truly special left to offer, Astral Weeks Live is nothing short of miraculous. Wailing, emoting and yes, reinventing his mystical chronicle of a Belfast childhood, supported by a superb band (with whom he'd had just one full rehearsal); this is Van the Man in peak form.
Morrison's last album, Keep it Simple, certainly saw him lighten up and get in the groove in a way he hasn't done for aeons, but this is a quantum leap. Before accusations start flying of critics merely liking this because it harks back to his supposed 'glory years' of ther late 60s and early 70s, take note: this album succeeds because it steadfastly refuses to merely recreate that was, in its stream-of-consciousness-folk-jazz way, unrepeatable. The original running order has been altered, numbers like the opening title track, Slim Slow Slider or Cypress Avenue get extended codas where Van lets his muse take full flow, leading him back into those blissful, repeated exhortations that always made his live shows something of a religious experience. And make no mistake, this is deeply spiritual stuff. The weight of experience along with some kind of personal turning point seems to allow Van to let loose in a way that he hasn't done for years.
None of this would be as good without such an exemplary band. Most especially the Spanish jazz guitar of Jay Berliner, the guitarist on the original studio album. You spend the first two minutes noticing how Van's voice has coarsened and dropped a register or two, until suddenly the flutes, violin and kick in and you're gone along with Morrison. Mixed as to include the cries of pleasure from the lucky crowd it's also a fine production by the Man himself. And yes, that's a smile on his face on the cover. That should tell you all you need to know.