One of the great live albums of all time has been multiplied exponentially. When this album surfaced originally in 1973, it marked a period of transition for Van Morrison. He had assembled his Caledonia Soul Orchestra and selected the best cuts from stops at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, The Troubadour in West Hollywood and the Rainbow in London. The original double vinyl collection was a mesmerizing trek through his roots and his canon to date.
With all the apparent acrimony now settled among his various labels, Sony Legacy has been charged with nurturing his vast catalog.
The latest installment is this four disc collection, adroitly capturing all the music from those dates. Unlike many multi-disc reissues, this one eschews a vast booklet, which at first left me a bit perplexed. But soon I realized that the simple liner notes let the music speak for itself. The key sentence: “All of the recordings featured on this set are previously unissued and do not overlap in any way with the original release.”
In other words, dive in and watch the Bard of Belfast spin his magic over several nights. Actually, for three discs you listen and marvel. On the fourth disc you can watch him in action. Watching the band react to his arm waving and stage direction is almost priceless.
With the sartorial splendor of the early 70s in full effect, you can better see him snapping the band into gear. He and a coupe band members are smoking like Belfast factory chimneys.
During “Cypress Avenue” I wonder who the little girl is who runs up to Morrison on cue as he sings about the little schoolgirls.
Look carefully and several times during the concert you can see him break demeanor and smile a bit. Look even more closely and you will see his watch is worn on the outside of his shirt sleeve. In decades to come he would eschew that element of his wardrobe in favor of a none-too-subtle digital clock to countdown the minutes he had either contractually agreed to perform or calculated to match his set list.
In any event, this four disc treasure trove reveals many gems. It is a pity that it took this long to reach the light of day, but good things apparently come to those who wait.
I look forward to seeing how he reprises some of these tunes at the Hollywood Bowl in October, when he is joined by Welshman Tom Jones in an intriguing double bill.