SXSW Day 1: Van Morrison, Division Day, The Ting Tings, The Duke Spirit at SXSW, March 12

Van Morrison at La Zona Rosa, Austin, Texas; Division Day, The Ting Tings and The Duke Spirit at Buffalo Billiards.

Van Morrison's pretty cool, wearing his trademark cap and sunglasses, holding a saxophone and totally nonplussed about this show. He's got nothing to prove, nothing to hide. He couldn't care less about "The State of the Industry," the collapse of the label system, digital downloading. He's Van Morrison, motherfuckers. He's gonna do what he pleases. And if, when he's scat-singing, he breaks off into, literally, a riff on the words "blah blah blah" -- and he did this during the show -- who's gonna call him on it? He did. He got stuck on "blah blah blah," and did a little vocal solo with the words, as if we wouldn't catch it. But a few of us did, and it didn't really bother us. He played the sax, as he is wont to do these days, and his dozen-odd band members filled the club with a variation on the cool jazz that he used to such great effect on his early classics - Astral Weeks, Moondance and St. Dominic's Preview - and the crowd enjoyed it. Which isn't to say he tore the house down. He could have, had he dropped "Moondance," or "The Way Young Lovers Do," or "Ballerina," or "Brown-Eyed Girl." But Van don't pander, has no time to give the people what they want. He gives them what they need. At one point between songs, he said, "I'm glad we're getting somewhere, because I've got other things to do tonight." Not many people can get away with saying such a thing on stage, but, well, this is Van Morrison, and his boredom is our medicine.

At least for a while. About six songs into the hour-long set, the crowd started getting a little restless. We all had other things to do tonight, too, and one of the joys and curses of SXSW is the reality that even when you're seeing Van Fucking Morrison, the greatest of all blue-eyed soul singers, in the back of your mind you're still thinking, what's next? Who will I see next? Maybe (ugh) Yeasayer? (I will remind you all again: the dude plays a FRETLESS BASS, which are, by definition, WACK). Or Vampire Weekend? Or some other Men at Work flavor of the week?

Well. I went afterward to see a few other buzz bands at Buffalo Billiards at the KCRW showcase. Of course, Division Day, from LA, isn't really a buzz band anymore. They were a few years ago, and now they're stuck in that do-or-die place that so many bands find themselves in. You can only buzz for so long before your stinger gets used up. Division Day is at that point, it seems. At their 11 p.m. showcase show, they were fine, though the crowd was a little thin. Their songs are solid. They start soft, then they get louder, then louder, until they're loud enough and then the song ends. The problem is: there are roughly 231,730 bands playing in Austin tonight, and at least 10,000 of them resemble Division Day: indie rock with guitars, bass, drum and synth. There's absolutely nothing to separate them from the pack. Songs? Sure, they're fine. Instrumentation: a tad conservative, but they know what they're doing. But ultimately, Division Day failed to move me, or, it seems, too many people at their SXSW showcase.

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an admittedly shitty cell phone image of the Ting Tings. Promise to do better today.

That wasn't a problem for The Ting Tings, from England. Recently signed to Sony, the male/female due was as good as the "people" say they are. Ignore the fact that singer/guitarist Katie White is very pretty (and kinda looks like Paris Hilton). I tried to ignore this because in general people who are too pretty usually make shitty music, and I wanted to keep my preconceptions to myself. But it didn't take too much work. She's a keeper whose stage presence and vocals captivated the jammed audience. By the time they dropped their destined-to-hit single, "That's Not My Name," the whole crowd was digging them.

I only stayed for a few Duke Spirit songs. Another Brit band with a blond lead singer (Blondie's big these days), the band injects hard Stooges riffs with a candy-filled center, but they didn't do it hard enough or caffeinated enough to convince me that my tiny brain could fit in one more band. Maybe it could have, but it's only Wednesday.

Tomorrow's assignment, from a friend: go see Parlor Mob. And Cut Copy. I apparently missed both of them somewhere tonight. And apparently they both tore it up.


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