Northern Irish singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison turns 73 today, best known for his gruff, soulful vocals and his 1967 smash hit single and forever karaoke jam, “Brown Eyed Girl.” Before his successful solo career, he was the lead singer in a Northern Irish pub-rock band, Them, who recorded the garage rock classic “Gloria,” famously covered by Patti Smith among others. Morrison’s solo career fused everything from soul, rock, country and R&B to Celtic, gospel and Americana. He’s released 39 studio albums and is an inductee of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
After the commercial failure of 1968’s Astral Weeks, Morrison released his third solo LP, Moondance, two years later, which took his blues and folk sound to jazzier new heights. At just 24 years old, he already had an extensive discography, but Morrison was still after a more mature, introspective sound rather than the primitive recordings of his older material—even though his instantly recognizable voice remained. On, Apr. 26, 1970, Morrison played a show at San Francisco’s Fillmore West in support of his latest album.
Wolfgang’s Vault writer Alan Bershaw recounted that eventful night:
Rock ’n’ roll comes in many different shapes and sizes, and on the night of April 26, 1970, it came to the Fillmore West in the form of a barrel-chested Irishman in a silk shirt and flares. The release of Moondance in February of 1970 saw Van taking his rhythm and folk in a sweeter, jazzier direction. His band clearly relishes the opportunity to showcase the album’s material before a sedated Fillmore crowd. Stumbling only at the beginning of the obligatory “Brown Eyed Girl,” the group delivers flawless renditions of most of the Moondance favorites, then brings the pitch to a glorious crescendo with nearly 13 minutes of “Cyprus Avenue” from Astral Weeks—dig the Otis Redding “wall of horns.” This is the real stuff; before The Commitments and Rattle and Hum, Irish soul had one name—and it was Van.
Listen to Morrison’s full 1970 Fillmore West show below.