This weekend last year, I was fortunate enough to see Van Morrison perform Astral Weeks in its entirety. I can’t even begin to explain how much this album means to me. Even though Dylan is my favorite artist, I’ve probably listened to Astral Weeks more than any other album. If Impressionism were put to music, Astral Weeks would be the soundtrack. Unlike a lot of other albums which seem to fit a certain mood, Astral Weeks absorbs the feeling that you have at the time. While the theme of the album is about looking back, Morrison created an album that has yet to be equaled in beauty by anyone. The centerpiece of the album, Madame George (which may or may not be about a drag queen) is a swirling piece of music that sucks you in and never lets go even after repeated listens. Everytime I listen to the song, I feel I’ve known Madame George and have to dry my eye and say goodbye along with Morrison.
When I first heard about the show, the thought that I would be able to go seemed out of the question. This was a special show, and getting a ticket would be impossible. Even having three people try to buy tickets at once seemed like a lost cause. I managed to get through and get tickets because I exceeded my normal price for tickets. “Fuck it, I’m going,” I thought. And my friend, his girlfriend and I did.
Without a doubt, the show was the best musical performance I’ve seen. The first half of the concert contained well known Van Morrison songs and he seemed happy to be there, but he tore through them like his mind was on something else. But by the time we got to Astral Weeks, it was easy to see why. Performing an album like this must be emotionally draining. This was no nostalgia act. Some people complain when artists don’t talk, but Morrison is a professional. Stage banter would have taken away the beauty of such songs as “Sweet Thing” and “Ballerina”.
The track list was tinkered with, and arrangements were changed a bit, but it was still Astral Weeks. It retained the free-jazz spirit of the original album and Morrison’s voice still sounded as great as it always has. When “Madame George” and Morrison sang “say goodbye to Madame George” – it wasn’t just the draq queen we were saying goodbye to. We were saying goodbye to the idea that an album could mean this much to people and that music of this caliber is also gone as well.