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SXSW -- Van Morrison and more...

Of the Oakland Press

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Austin, Texas -- Sights and sounds from the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference...

SXSW 2008 had an unofficial kickoff on Tuesday night (March 11) when Irish rock icon Van Morrison played at the Austin Music Hall. The sold out show was not part of the festival, but it was the week's first big music event for early arrivals awaiting the full array of showcases slated to being on Wednesday (March 12).

As is Morrison's wont, the 95-minute show was perhaps a bit more idiosyncratic than some of the fans who paid $150 a ticket might have wanted. As one concertgoer noted afterwards, ''I didn't know anything he played, but it sounded great!'' There was some familiar fare -- an extended take of ''Moondance'' on which, like most of the show's 18 songs, Morrison and his 11-piece group passed the musical ball for a series of short, sublime solos, along with ''Bright Side of the Road,'' ''Magic Time,'' ''Saint James Infirmary'' and versions of Don Gibson's ''I Can't Stop Loving You'' and Ann Peebles' ''Tear Your Playhouse Down.''

Morrison also opened the concert with his version of the Frank Sinatra co-written ''This Love of Mine.''

But Morrison used the appearance to hawk his new album, ''Keep It Simple'' -- a daunting prospect for both band and audience since it doesn't come out until April 1. But that didn't stop Morrison and company from offering a 10-song ''preview'' of the set, mixing soul, country and blues elements into selections such as ''That's Entrainment,'' [cq] ''Poor Boy,'' ''School of Hard Knocks,'' ''Soul,'' ''Don't Go to Nightclubs Anymore'' and the title track.

And rather than end with a band and a big hit, Morrison finished his encore-less set with the new song ''Behind the Ritual,'' a gospel-flavored piece that was familiar in tone even if it was brand new.

Some may have felt like they didn't get what they expected, but Morrison is one of those performers you should never expect anything from. That said, he probably insured sales of a more than a few copies of ''Keep It Simple'' on Tuesday night.

Paste magazine sponsored a closing night party Tuesday (March 11) for the SXSW Film Festival that was in actuality a bridge into the music festival kicking off the following day. The affair, held in the outdoor venue behind Stubb's barbecue restaurant, was a microcosm of what SXSW is all about, with Kaki King's display of sophisticated guitar virtuosity preceding an all-out rave in the open field. Moby was ostensibly the star of the event and delivered a rocking set, but it was the duo Addictive TV that proved even more interesting, syncing their sounds tightly to video clips from the original ''The Italian Job'' and snippets of Led Zeppelin's ''The Song Remains the Same.''

The SXSW music festival's opening night on Wednesday (March 12) is heavy in Detroit flavor. The Von Bondies official festival showcase is scheduled to take place, as well as a performance by Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson. Also on the docket are the Motor City rock bands the Hard Lessons and Child Bite, as well as Ann Arbor denizens Great Lakes Myth Society, Chris Bathgate, Canada and Frontier Ruckus.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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