Van Morrison “My New World Crystal Ball” (Rattlesnake RS 255/56)
Disk 1; EARLY SET: Sweet Thing (Acoustic) / I Wanna Roo You (Acoustic) / Tupelo Honey (Acoustic) / Que Sera Sera / Hound Dog / These Dreams of You / Let It Be Me / Tennessee Waltz / Moonshine Whisky / Just Like A Woman / I’ve Been Working / Domino / Buena Sera Señorita (73:37)
Disk 2; LATE SET: Sweet Thing (Acoustic) / Street Choir (Acoustic) / Tupelo Honey (Acoustic) / Que Sera Sera / Hound Dog / These Dreams of You / When That Evening Sun Goes Down / Let It Be Me / Moonshine Whiskey / Just Like A Woman / I’ve Been Working / Gloria / Domino / Buena Sera Señorita (75:31)
Live at the Lion’s Share, San Anselmo, California, August 8th 1971.
10 years separate the last Van Morrison Rattlesnake release from this one but then great historical recordings don’t come around that often and when they do, then evidently patience was a virtue.
Straight from the reels recorded at the Lion’s Share, the tiny musicians club in San Anselmo, CA, favoured by local residents and the scene of Janis Joplin’s funeral wake where the Grateful Dead were asked to play, comes this stunning, tape featuring both the early and late shows from Van Morrison.
The two shows were very possibly the result of either an early promotional drive for the ‘Tupelo Honey’ LP – Van’s “Country And Western” album – or were organised for a warm up night for Van to show up and rehearse.
The recording here has Van’s voice pushed towards the left channel with the instruments pushed towards the right, the ambiance is correct for a small club recording when songs are played acoustically or with a full band – The closest I can think of is the Borderline recording with Ry Cooder / Neil Young or Patti Smith at CBGBs though there may be more that may spring to your mind.
Van’s set is almost identical for both the early and late shows with just a couple of changes in the evening for a bawdier nighttime crowd. The set starts with ‘Sweet Thing’ from Van’s inaugural solo album “Astral Weeks” just Van on acoustic and (we’re assuming) John Platania chopping out a rhythm on electric. A wonderful scene stealer, the song flows on like a lazy river for 8 minutes, enveloping the air, bewitching an already serene crowd.
‘I Wanna Roo You’ is the first “Tupelo Honey” track, I think it would be fair to say it’s a little more charged than the first track, it’s still hardly country of old but brings the country up to pace again, mixing Vans own brand of soul together with a Band-ish flourish where as “Tupelo Honey” designates it’s feeling back to the first track. A long, lingering acoustic dream along.
The electric set begins under subterfuge with a quiet beginning, the band tune up and Van leads us in with a short rendition of “Que Sera Sera”.
What happens next takes the sound man by surprise as the band burst in to a rocking take on Leiber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog”. A real amalgamation of honking sax, boogie piano and wailing soloing it’s a real perk up after all the acoustic ethereality of the previous ‘set’.
“These Dreams Of You” picks up almost immediately afterwards. The second ‘Moondance’ track in the set, this time more of a skipper rather than a rocker, it’s lyrics are roared rather than retold, Van’s voice pealing at the seams to burn up.
Finding time for a cover or two in his set, Van then takes on “Let It Be Me”, famously covered from the French translation by the Everly Brothers and then by everyone else in the history of recorded music it seems. Despite it having harmony roots, Van takes on this goliath on his own, a lesser voice would have it buried by sound, through heres a strong enough bluster to take it on alone.“Tennessee Waltz” that follows is a version of the Stewart / King country song and swings gently, the way is should be played.
On to the side of the epics, “Moonshine Whiskey” is the first of 2, 9 minute plus songs. Apparently written with ex-neighbour Janis Joplin in mind, this bucolic tribute swings between gushing ballad to galloping party junket. The delightful, boozy-swooning harmonies lift the track to near hysteria. The hand claps that punctuate every full stop are as cheering as finding a $50 note on the floor in a liquor store.
“Just Like A Woman”, a cover of the Dylan ‘Blonde On Blonde’ song, is brought down to a very slow tempo but sounds exactly like you might have thought Van’s version of it might be played. Slow, languorous, smoke fuelled with striking punctuation creating dramatic effect. Van uses a little artistic inclination with some of the lyrics too, changing or repeating where he feels he needs to. The crowd show their biggest appreciation of the night for it (Which must be galling after 8 other Van originals.)
The funk anté is stepped up for “I’ve Been Working”, creaking sax, rolling piano licks and explicitly funky guitar lines leaves us with a breathless and worn Van.
“Domino” is perfectly fixed to be one of those ‘close-of-the-set’ renditions, you can almost hear the point where a band introduction might fit too. It never comes through, the audience must be familiar with the players on stage so they’re not singled out. It starts to come close to the almost-too-good-to-be-true-stage before crashing in to a glorious halt at the end before the band leave the stage leaving the crowd stamping and clapping for more.
A brilliantly daffy version of the Italian standard “Buena Sera Señorita” which sounds like they threw in everything including the kitchen sink finishes the show. Raggedy call and response vocals, comedic playing and a lot of scat singing complete this rendition in a silly polka style.
This disk ends with the MC asking the attendees to exit through the rear door, as the following audience are waiting.
It seems the second audience may get the better end of the bargain though as Van opens up and varies his set list just a little more – as well as the tracks played in the first set, Van drops “I Wanna Roo You” in exchange for “Street Choir” from his previous album. Another delicate out pouring of disappointment, although this version is anything but.
The pause between “Que Sera Sera” and “Hound Dog” is longer on this show, spoiling the surprise of the rendition a little, while Van sounds a little more, shall we say, refreshed as he sings and the blitz that this conveys is studied of sloppy rock ’n’ roll.
“When That Evening Sun Goes Down” is a true bar-room roller, it sounds like a studio outtake, close to a thrown together jam at times, if the ambience wasn’t as live then you’d swear that the band were playing to themselves.
Finally, “Gloria”, picks up where the clapping from “I’ve Been Working” leaves off and if it’s not one of the heaviest, grungiest, brutal renditions that you’ll hear from Van then I’m not sure what is. It glides seamlessly in to the nights version of “Domino” with ease.
Honestly, this may be the best Van recording I’ve heard, not withstanding it’s slightly wonky mix of vocals, it’s beauty is in the fun that Morrison and his band are having. A fantastic recording, a great night. Another must have release from the ’Snake – lets hope we don’t have to wait another 10 years for more.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)