In Concert: Van Morrison and The Who

In Concert: Van Morrison and The Who
In What Decade Are We Living?, November 7 and 8, 2008


Van Morrison at Hollywood Bowl – November 2008


A sort of harmonic convergence descended on LA last week, when two legacy artists each played a pair of overlapping concerts in LA.  Van Morrison and The Who both pushed the edge of their respective artistic envelopes.

Van Morrison’s assay of Astral Weeks at The Hollywood Bowl marked the first time he had played it top to bottom on stage, and it is slated to be the inaugural release on his new label.  (The promised internet stream of the concert was pulled at the last minute; it seems he was not quite ready to risk piracy concerns.  A topic for another day, but the better move is to embrace the fan who wants to experience the music.  That enlightened attitude would have resulted in a friendlier attitude at the show; the obtrusive ushers rushing about shutting down fans taking cell phone pictures to share with those not at the gig prevented just about the best and cheapest positive promotion for Morrison’s new label).

Although Morrison’s gig was preceded by the incongruous display of his live clips and interviews over the huge video monitors, once the lights came down he spun his magic in real time.

By opening with an impossibly wonderful one-two punch of “Wavelength” and “St. Dominic’s Preview,” Morrison set the bar high.  There was a palpable emotional rush for me.

As the opening bars of the third song were recognized, a punter toward the back shouted “Obama.”  When I stumble upon this review in the years to come, only then will I know how prescient that punter was, given that the song was “And the Healing Has Begun.”  And to really stretch the unlikely political connection here, if I had a question for Morrison, I’d ask him if he was already planning the next selection, a melding of “It’s All in the Game” and “You Know What They’re Writing About.” The former song was the only #1 song co-written by a US Vice-President.

Morrison played a few more songs from his fertile middle period, and then closed the first set with a triptych of his biggest radio hits.  It was as if he wanted to counterbalance the radio obscurity of Astral Weeks with the immediately recognizable “Moondance” and “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Gloria.” Each hit had the expected rousing response from the audience.  I am now pretty well convinced that “Brown Eyed Girl” is near the top of any baby boomer top 10 list.

His 10 piece band, supplemented by 3 string players, was sufficiently tight and more importantly quite responsive to Morrison’s onstage modulations of the melodies.  He relied on John Platania (lead guitar) and David Hayes (bass) for most of the songs’ underpinning; both musicians have been with Morrison since the early 1970s. 

After a short break, allowing us to refresh our glasses of Guinness, Morrison returned to the stage with a streamlined band for the Astral Weeks set.  Jay Berliner and Richard Davis (guitar and bass, respectively) were in the original recording sessions for the album which was almost lost to obscurity on release, but which now leads many critics’ best of lists.

Morrison manned a huge white acoustic guitar for the entire second set.  The jazzy inflections of the songs reflected the loose nature of the original recordings.  Serving as a walking daydream, the album is an impressionist collection of images about life, love and Ireland.  The standouts from the set were “Slim Slow Slider,” “The Way Young Lovers Do” and the sprawling “Madame George.” As with the album version, Morrison sang about Madame Joy onstage.

Before jumping into his car backstage, Morrison returned for a fabulous encore of “Listen To The Lion.” This hugely emotive song capped a fine evening.  Morrison was not the curmudgeon often seen in concert, rather he looked to be fully in command and enjoying the spectacle.

The next night saw The Who roar through two non-stop hours of rock prowess.  Daltrey’s voice is certainly showing signs of wear, but he did not mail in his performance.  During the final yell in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” he did not hold back despite the obvious shredding of his vocal cords.  Over the last several decades as Daltrey aged and became less the golden rock god, most eyes turned to Townshend as the band’s onstage focal point.  As the brains behind the operation, he was the creative genius behind the timeless nature of the songs.  He moved with agility and aplomb, slashing chords and driving lead guitar figures.  “I Can’t Explain” remains the traditional opening song.  There were stops along the way across the broad and deep catalog.  Two wonderful surprises were “Relay” which only appeared as a single somewhere around The Lifehouse/Who’s Next project and “Getting in Tune.”  Clips from Quadropehnia provided a visual backdrop for a medley from that classic album.  Townshend once responded to my question at a press conference and said that he considers Tommy a ‘very California’ project.  The tracks played live from that rock opera surged the recent show to a stirring conclusion.  The now-traditional set closer “Tea and Theatre” is the biographical reflection facing Townshend and Daltrey, even if it was written for Townshend’s mini-opera from the last album.  As the crisp band left the stage, leaving only the original pair, Daltrey sings while Townshend strums:

Will you have some tea
At the theatre with me?
We did it all
Didn’t we?

Jumped every wall
Unravelled codes

Daltrey sips from his cuppa, Townshend fingers the chords on his acoustic guitar.  The lights dim a bit.  The lyrics comment on the other original pair.


One of us – gone
One of us – mad
One of us – me
All of us sad
All of us sad

All of us free
Before we walk from this stage
Two of us

Will you have some tea
Will you have some tea
At the theatre with me


My fuzzier view – The Who in their original incarnation, Buffalo, December 1975


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.