Dallas Morning News - THOR CHRISTENSEN
AUSTIN – South by Southwest usually focuses on young buzz bands eager to make their mark. But this year, the opening-night buzz belonged to a cranky geezer who made his mark 44 years ago: Van Morrison.The 62-year-old legend drew an overflow crowd Wednesday night to La Zona Rosa, where he played a set that was puzzling at times, transcendent at others, but never predictable. In other words, it was classic Van the Man.
Van Morrison blew on the sax, but hardly blew away the crowd, at Austin's La Zona Rosa.
He strode onstage wearing a fedora, sunglasses and a hard-core poker face. After a few minutes, he finally acknowledged the audience.
"If someone will turn off that mobile phone, we'll get started," he huffed.
Uh-oh. When the Irish Cowboy turns surly, things can get ugly.
But alas, they never did. Mr. Morrison dove headfirst into the music, immersing himself in the songs, the lyrics and his trademark flights of scat singing. The word "C'mon" turned into a 20-syllable jazz poem. "Bluh bluh" became a 30-second gospel epiphany.
By the end of the hourlong set, he was moaning the blues in a deep voice like the second coming of Howlin' Wolf.
Backed by a tight 11-piece band, he spent most of the show previewing songs from Keep It Simple, his 33rd studio CD, which is due out next month. In "No Thing" and "End of the Land," he brokered a smooth marriage of twang and soul à la Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.
He played sax. He played ukulele. But he didn't play a single hit – not even "Moondance," his usual concession to his glory days.
The no-hits approach didn't exactly thrill the audience, which was heavy on music-biz types seeing him for the first time. Instead of cheering after band members soloed – as fans did in December at Dallas' Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center – the audience stood quietly, apparently saving their applause for "Brown-Eyed Girl."
But "Girl" was a no-show, reminding you that Van Morrison isn't a crowd-pleaser – even when the crowd's filled with music-biz VIPs
Philly.com - Dan DeLuca
One of the bonuses of getting to Austin a day before the music festival got completely berserk was getting to see Van Morrison on Tuesday at the Austin Music Hall. It was a non-SXSW gig for Morrison - meaning real people had to pay real money for tickets, rather than flash a badge - who plays an official festival show tonight at La Zona Rosa. And for the Irishman who loves to play hard-to-get, the Texas dates are two of only four dates he's scheduled to do in the United States in support of Keep It Simple, his album out April 1.
Like Keep It Simple, the Music Hall show was typical of the latter-day Van the Man. It's rich, warm and soulful, with impeccable musicianship from a 10-piece band that featured the tootling saxophone and occasional mandolin-playing from its 62-year-old, fedora-wearing front man - and was a bit sleepy.
Morrison's music is so deeply relaxed these days, as it digs into American vernacular forms, that it can be more than a little lulling. Even though the 90-minute show went off at 7 p.m. sharp, the dude next to me was nodding off during "I Don't Go to Nightclubs Anymore," the blues-ballad credo of an aging music lover who sounds as though he'd rather stay home and listen to his Ray Charles records than come out and play. Morrison is still a master at commanding a groove, however, and his voice remains full of feeling even though he doesn't have the range he used to.
He loves to rumble and growl, and placated a crowd eager for old hits with an extended "Moondance," and a perky, Dixieland-flavored "Bright Side of the Road," for which he slipped into a Louis Armstrong imitation, which he also employed on a down-and-out "St. James Infirmary" that I'd love to hear again.
Austin360 - John T. Davis
There was a moment there, when Van Morrison swung into “Don’t Go To Nightclubs Anymore,” a song from his forthcoming album, “Keep It Simple,” when a flicker of ironic disbelief might have ignited behind the singer’s gold-tinted aviator glasses.
After all, just the night before he had played around the corner at the Austin Music Hall, singing for the swells who could spring for tickets that started at a hundred-bucks-and-change. Now here he was, back playing in a former transmission repair shop — La Zona Rosa in its current incarnation — for any snot-nosed punk with a SXSW badge or wristband.
Perhaps he was chagrined by his sudden change in fortune. We snot-nosed punks, however, thoroughly enjoyed the rare chance to savor one of Ireland’s greatest and most enduring exports up close and personal.
Morrison and his 11-piece band mostly confined themselves to tracks off the new album, ranging from the tough, street-gritty old-school R&B of “How Can A Poor Boy” to the more rural, ethereal, Tupelo Honey-esque entreaties of “Keep It Simple” and “Song of Home” and the canny, seemingly effortless pop of “That’s Entrainment.” He also tipped his hat to a native Texan with his affecting rendition of Johnny Bush’s whiskey-soaked anthem, “There Stands the Glass.”
Striking a James Cagney pose in a fedora and tailored gray suit, Morrison moved between saxophone and (who’d of thunk?) ukulele as he and his spit-shine band moved between older material such as “Magic Time” and “This Love of Mine” and a lovely new set-closer, “Behind the Ritual.”
For this listener, whose most recent glimpse of Van Morrison was via a distant video screen far across a field at the Austin City Limits festival the year before last, his La Zona Rosa set was an anomalous episode to savor.
Taking to the stage a few minutes before his scheduled time of 7pm this evening (March 12), Van The Man wore his trademark hat and sunglasses, walking onstage with his saxophone around his neck.
The room, which minutes earlier had seemed like any oversized dive bar, was suddenly transformed into a jazz club, as his opened with ‘This Love Of Mine’, joined by 11 musicians.
After renditions of ‘Magic Time’ and ‘There Stands The Glass’, the Belfast native treated the reverential audience to brand new material from his forthcoming album, pausing to reprimand an audience member whose mobile phone rang as he spoke.
‘We’d like to do the next album. If someone turns off that mobile phone we can start it’ the notoriously difficult singer said curtly.
Morrison had the bars in the venue closed for the duration of his set, while cameras, voice recorders, and any recording or filming device were prohibited throughout his set.
In addition to previewing much of his new LP, Morrison thrilled the crowd with a hit-laden set including performances of ‘Song Of Home’, ‘That’s Entrainment’ and ‘End Of The Land’.
NY Times - Jon Pareles
Van Morrison, perpetual outsider, was right at home in Texas, where honky-tonk mingles with blues, R&B and country the way he does. In his club show at La Zona Rosa–a big, packed dance floor–he looked as grumpy as he usually does, but he plunged into his music. Like Bob Dylan, Mr. Morrison tours steadily and changes from night to night; sometimes he’s inspired, sometimes he’s not. But maybe he had something to prove at South By Southwest, playing for an audience that mixed fans and the curious.
He wasn’t looking back. He has a new album, “Keep It Simple,” with songs full of philosophy, regrets, complaints and confessions, and those were the songs he played: no safe oldies. The new songs keep his usual mixture of soul and country, with a little more electric blues guitar than he has been allowing lately. That added bite was redoubled in his voice: he attacked each line, jumping ahead, repeating words in a rush of syllables, scat-singing, even yodeling. He gets more expression from his timing than his tone, and he never just cruised; he pounced on every phrase, sly and wayward, playful and demanding.
As on the album, the finale, “Behind the Ritual,” was a drinking song from a man who doesn’t want to be a drunk, who used to be “talking all out of my mind,” any more. But the song longs for the old intoxication; he misses “drinking that sweet wine,” and the song had a gospelly buildup as he sang about getting “so high in the days gone by.” A drinking song, perfect for a Texas honky-tonk.