Van Morrison's performance Saturday night at the Berkeley's Greek Theatre was nothing less than quintessential Van. One of the most influential singer song writers of his or any generation, Morrison has always had an uneasy relationship with the public components of his art. Rarely speaking to the press (not truly a component of art but sometimes helpful in the marketplace), Morrison comes from the "music speaks for itself" school.
The circumspect one maintains the same approach at his live shows and his Saturday night performance was a signature example. Billed as "Astral Weeks - Live," Morrison first performed a selection of songs from his vast song book. He began the night at the piano for "Northern Muse," before taking center stage.
Alternating between acoustic and electric guitars, occasionally picking up his saxophone or harmonica he and a fourteen piece band (including a string quartet, two guitarists, three singers, and woodwind player) worked through a survey of his tunes. The set included "And It Stoned Me," "Queen of the Slipstream" "Wild Night," "Common One," "All In the Game," and "Moondance."
Morrison was strong voice - scatting, slurring, and growling his way through the material. He worked with out a set list calling out each tune to the band immediately after finishing a song. There was short intermission and then Morrison came back and led a smaller version of the band through the "Astral Weeks" set. While part of the fascination with seeing someone like Morrison is simply the anticipation of what they will play from all the material at their disposal, knowing what was coming didn't diminish the experience.
The expansive versions enhanced already fluid sensual music with Morrison stretching out most everything from the classic record with the highlights coming from the album's core of "Sweet Thing," "Cyprus Avenue," "Ballerina," and "Madame George."
Morrison tacked on a encore of "Listen To The Lion - The Lion Speaks" followed an audience satiating "Gloria" and he was gone. At one point he did say "How about it for the band?"