The old Van Morrison is winning some new fans. He staged a concert last year at the Hollywood Bowl and played his 1968 classic “Astral Weeks”, an album he’d never previously performed live.
Of course, the obligatory CD and DVD followed, and all have been met with wild success.
He is embarking on an “Astral Weeks” tour that will run at least through this fall, and there are more related releases in the near future. According to the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Morrison is so dedicated to his “AstralWeeks” revival that fans will be able to witness the entire year-long process of rediscovering the record in the forthcoming feature-length documentary “To Be Born Again.”
The film, slated for an early 2010 release, will draw from live performances, interviews, rehearsals and other behind-the-scenes footage, starting with the first Hollywood Bowl shows last fall.
The documentary features footage shot exclusively during the past year, and Morrison (who’s also directing) is looking forward to finally telling his story the way he wants it to be told.
“The film shows the real Van Morrison,” explains Darren Doane, the filmmaker who co-directed the Live at the Hollywood Bowl concert film and will be working alongside Morrison for the documentary.
“It’s his film. And the film is about exposing and tearing down all the myths about Van Morrison and the music industry as a whole.”
Morrison has been grousing about fame and the music business through songs like “Professional Jealousy,” “Why Must I Always Explain,” and “They Sold Me Out” in recent years, and it would seem that he’s had enough. He released this live album and DVD through his own record label, which should shut him up already.
Don’t get me wrong -- this columnist is a huge fan of Van the Man. “Have I Told You Lately” is my wedding song, and at least one of my kids was conceived to his music.
But someone who charges upwards of $350 for a concert seat at WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden for a show there on October 25 has got some nerve complaining about how he has somehow been wronged by people. With ticket prices that high, he is giving new meaning to his 1974 album “Veedon Fleece.”
Even this move to revive “Astral Weeks” could be looked at as a middle finger-laden complaint directed at his old record label. Van feels that Warner Bros. neglected it the first time around.
“That’s why I never got to play the songs live,” he told Rolling Stone last November. “The album was a lot of hard work to make. I worked on crafting the material for years before the 1968 sessions. It received no promotion from Warner Bros.
“I had always wanted to play the record live and fully orchestrated — that is what this is all about.”
By all accounts, these “Astral Weeks” shows are something to see. Not that I would know -- when I inquired about getting tickets to these shows, his publicist said she “might be able to get me one ticket” to Atlantic City, and that was the last thing I heard. I couldn’t even get the live album to review!
Dude, don’t do me any favors! If I am going to shell out $350 for a ticket to see you, you better bring explosives and greasepaint like Gene Simmons does for his KISS shows.
Or -- not that I can talk, mind you -- but you could shed a few pounds and run around the stage like a coked-up aerobics instructor.
Hey, it works for Mick Jagger, who at least brings some value to his fans by giving them a spectacle of the hits we know and love. And yes, he brings explosives for the “Satisfaction” finale.
In these tough times, you might want to take in a show by the Cowfast Bellboys, a Van Morrison tribute band from Minneapolis that lends a modern rock stamp on Van’s Celtic soul classics.
They are playing at BB King’s in Times Square on August 29, and with an admission price of $20, you can hear all of the Van music you want for about 1/10 of the price of a mid-priced ticket at WaMu.
“When we play live, people tell me it sounds like a punk rock Van Morrison,” says singer Terry Walsh, whose cadence is remarkably like Morrison’s without venturing into a parody vibe.
Surprisingly, Walsh is the first to defend Morrison’s outrageous ticket prices.
“Yeah, I paid top dollar when he came around here,” he says sheepishly. “But man, when Van hits the mike and it’s a human voice singing at you, no matter how grouchy he is, it is a thrill at any price. Well, almost any price!”
When you go on the band’s website at belfastcowboys.com, you notice that they also go by the name of Belfast Cowboys and St. Dominic’s Trio. This “branding soup” is a side effect of the copyright pressure that Morrison’s lawyers are putting on Walsh and his band.
“We almost lost the BB King’s show because his lawyers sent a nasty email to us and BB King’s asking us to change the name of our band, so it is Cowfast Bellboys,” Walsh says.
“We got this long, threatening email with litigious elements to it, which bummed me out. I actually got mad at first that someone charging hundreds of dollars for a ticket could worry about us. We’ve done this for eight years out of love and respect to Van.
“We are not trying to defile Van; quite the opposite. They informed us that there was proper ways for us to meet guidelines for Exile Productions. I am keeping my head down until next week’s show and then I will deal with it.
“I paid royalties along the way, but apparently, I missed some hoops along the way.”
Walsh says that Morrison’s company is claiming that they own a common-law right to the name Belfast Cowboys, a reference to the introduction of how Van was introduced in the movie “The Last Waltz.”
When I bring up the fact that Walsh is the one that owns the domain name for the website, he laughs.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” he says wearily. “It’s not like we’re calling ourselves ‘Van the Man.’ It’s a pretty obscure reference and I don’t think that name is going to confuse anyone with the real thing.”
When I ask Walsh if this legal matter has dampened his love of Van, but he dismisses the notion immediately.
“Sure, I’ve gone through different emotions. I was mad and hurt. I remember the night after the lawyer we got a gig and I was onstage just so pissed,” he says.
“I am now at the stage where I don’t think Van even has an idea that this is going on and if I believe this, I can look at this as a business transaction. But at the end of the day, I am still just so in love with these songs and people are really happy to hear them played live. That keeps me going.”
Walsh says he’s got nothing but good reviews from fans of Van the Man.
“Some people say we’re better than Van. I don’t,” he says. “But I also hear that we talk to the audience and we are nicer, and I do believe that!”
Walsh says that fans of Van can expect to hear a set list full of hits and the music that they love.
“When you see him, it is hit or miss,” he says. “Van picks these songs from his huge catalog on a bit of a whim. There are 50 songs you want to hear when you see the show as a fan, and he usually does only five of them.”
If Van and his people bothered to listen closely to the music of Belfast Cowboys/Cowfast Bellboys/whatever, they would hear a thoroughly modern take of classics like “Real Real Gone” and “Jackie Wilson Said,” which sound like a Replacements tribute band imitating a Van Morrison tribute band.
Check them out on myspace.com/stdominicstrio. And visit BB King’s Web site to get your ticket for the August 29 show, which begins at 7 p.m.