Van Morrison at His Finest Live

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When the first edition of this live album came out on February 1, 1974, I saw it on a Sunday in the window of a closed record store. I was tempted to break the window just to get my hands on it. A jury of my peers – which if we’re talking genuine peers would have to be not just Van the Man fans but enthusiasts – would have ruled it justifiable larceny.

My criminal temptations were proven understandable when I bought the …It’s Too Late to Stop Now… soon after. Its 18 live tracks across two vinyl discs brimmed with the passion, heart and mysticism that made Morrison a special artist even among so many special acts in a time of musical magic. It’s the kind of concert one might want to hear on arrival in the afterlife paradise: A smoking core rock combo with both horn and string sections – the 11-member Caledonia Soul Orchestra – backing a not simply gifted but truly blessed artist proudly singing his heart out from atop the peak of his youthful powers.

It provided many many hours of listening bliss. And offered a lively compendium of Morrison’s musical vision to date: his roots of Bobby “Blue” Bland (the swinging opener “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (a lively take of “Help Me” with the band cooking on full flame) and Sam Cooke (a version of “Bring It on Home to Me” that builds from sparse and meditative to a soul celebration, with Van showing his finest singer’s stuff).

It includes his hits like “Here Comes the Night” (mixing two tempos and sounding like it’s from the U.S. south and not the streets of Northern Ireland) and a genuine audience singalong on a niftily grinding “Gloria.”

There are joyful romps through “These Dreams of You,” an extended “Caravan,” and Van’s magically soul-affecting mysticism on the uplifting “Saint Dominic’s Preview,” “Listen to the Lion” and 10 minutes of “Cypress Avenue” that play like musical Cinerama.

The 2016 expanded release adds 45 tracks from the three Morrison concerts recorded for the original album at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Civic Center and the Rainbow Theatre in London. It would take far more space than available here to enumerate all the wonderfulness to be savored among them. I knew that as I listened to the seventh track on the first of these three new discs, “Purple Heather” – the closing song to Hard Nose the Highway, the studio album that preceded Van’s first live offering, and his rewrite of the traditional chestnut “Wild Mountain Thyme” – and this lovely shiver of pleasure ran down my spine.

This review could go needlessly long in praising, raving and even swooning over the many (many) wonderful moments in these additional tracks as well as the DVD from the Rainbow show. Suffice to say that all four audio discs brim with what a live concert should be as Van and the band change up their takes on songs and set lists from show to show. Hence having three versions of “Cypress Avenue” just adds to the magic, and two renditions of Van’s inspired take on Kermit the Frog’s Muppets song “Bein’ Green” is a delight.

Kudos go to pianist/organist Jeff Labes, whose pianistics enhance every song, and guitarist John Platania, who throws in wondrous six-string sparks, howls, moans, flashes and much more throughout. There’s a bunch of fab covers that Van makes all his own like Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Since I Fell For You,” Brother Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul” and the pop standard “Buena Sera” plus a bunch of Van album tracks that play as well as his marquee songs.

Listen to “Hey Good Lookin'”

With brilliantly clear sound, this set, all told, is a treasure trove of live rocking soul music and beyond that shines with eternal brilliance.

Inspired? Go see Morrison perform live. Tickets are available here and here.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Morrison’s His Band and the Street Choir

Rob Patterson

2 Comments so far

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  1. Brad
    #1 Brad 17 June, 2016, 09:07

    Flying home to California having downloaded this expanded treasure. It makes the flight a wonderful experience. The original release is one of the finest live albums ever and now it overflows. Glad Van mended fences with his labels, kudos to Sony Legacy for the superb handling of all the reissues thus far.

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  2. Doc DeBoze
    #2 Doc DeBoze 1 February, 2021, 18:11

    I saw this same band up close at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on one of “Those Nights” that Van acolytes wait and dream about. Van has always had a well~deserved reputation for both shitty throwaway shows, indifferent “money” gigs and jaw dropping Transcendent evenings of Total Commitment that raise the dead and make Angels weep. It was one of Those shows…and this Live document is as close to perfection as a live album can ever be. If I ever need my Van the Man fix I light a few candles, grab a good smoke, and crank up my best gear real LOUD and drift back to that Magic Night. It does NOT get any better than that…

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