Van Morrison: Legends of the Festival
Van Morrison walked onto the stage at 7 sharp on Wednesday night, wearing a gray suit, silver-frame sunglasses and fedora. A saxophone hung from his neck. Surrounding him, a 10-piece band launched into a blues vamp that blared through La Zona Rosa, a concrete-block club on the edge of downtown Austin, Texas.
It was the first night of the South by Southwest music festival, and among the scores of obscure and up-and-coming bands vying for attention; veterans like Mr. Morrison were on hand to promote new releases. Later Wednesday night, R.E.M. performing behind a barbeque restaurant nearby. (Mr. Morrison’s show was one of a handful in the U.S., including one in Boston tonight and another in New York tomorrow, before a short tour through Europe.)
In contrast to the mood of raucous self-promotion pervading the city, Mr. Morrison, 62 years old, sand about self reliance and bruises accrued through a lifetime—to a diving beat. In “School of Hard Knocks,” an ambling blues number, he sang, “I got shipwrecked and stranded on the rocks. Everybody left me high and dry.”
Mr. Morrison has put out nearly 40 albums since his first solo effort in 1967, the year he released the hit “Brown Eyed Girl.” Previous to that, he led the raw-edged British Invasion act Them, which recorded Mr. Morrison’s iconic “Gloria.”
His latest album, “Keep It Simple,” to be released April 1, features spare musical arrangements, colored by subtle country and soul influences. Throughout the 11 original songs, Mr. Morrison stabs at his own myth, “I’m not a legend in my own mind,” he sings on “Don’t Go to Nightclubs Anymore.”
On stage Wednesday, he led his band for an hour, pointing to the players to launch them into solos. He took some himself on saxophone and a small guitar. His voice was strong and carried his trademark ring, but he didn’t smile and barely spoke to the audience. During his last number, an extended jam called “Behind the Ritual,” he struck a nostalgic note as he sang, “Talking that jive, drinking that wine, in the days gone by.”