Originally Published In Beats Per Minute on 4/25/12
The sun was setting on a pleasant summer night; the kind of night that concert promoters salivate over.
Jim James led My Morning Jacket out onto stage to open their set. Dressed in a blue poncho, James hunched over his guitar as his signature red curlicues draped over him. James has an almost mystical appearance—especially when silhouetted in the fog. His buttery “oohs” and “aaahs” captivated the crowd as if he were the Norse god of silky smooth.
The Kentucky-based band has strong southern rock sensibilities—James and Hallahan would look natural on the cover of any Allman Brothers record—and their songs delve into sonic terrain from below the Mason-Dixon. Like their heroes, My Morning Jacket is an untiring live act that elongates songs with fiery guitar solos and tight-knit chemistry, transforming each track into a cathartic showstopper.
My Morning Jacket have a reputation of being tireless performers that give it their all for every show and I was curious if they could deliver. As my knowledge of the My Morning Jacket catalogue only spans half their career and as I greatly enjoyed a Titus Andronicus set and a Kills show earlier that week, I was skeptical if My Morning Jacket could truly impress.
“Dondante” was exemplary of the band’s live transformation. On the album, the track is ethereal and ghastly, transforming into a climatic guitar freak-out before retreating peacefully once again. However, on Sunday, every peak and valley in the song was amplified. The interplay between the placid beginning and manic guitar heightened the song’s release of emotion.
The band sounded extremely tight live while allowing for room to improvise, giving each track enough breathing space. Songs were never rushed; instead, I found myself being entranced by their tight rhythm section and James’ hypnotic voice. They methodically built up to intense highs and dramatically crashed to haunting lows; an emotional roller coaster I kept queuing up for.
My Morning Jacket are masters of the false ending. They played so many extended intros and outros that I frequently lost track of what song they were playing. Every number seamlessly led to the next, and there were no lulls.
While their song structure was predictable, it still captivated. You know that James is going to step off the microphone and the band is going to jam out for the next few minutes before ending the song in cacophonous glory, but it doesn’t matter. You know it’s going to happen and you know it’s going to melt your face. Still, it gets you every time. It’s like watching the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark on repeat…
My Morning Jacked rolled through song after song with barely any banter, however, when James did speak, he seemed wide-eyed and thrilled to be playing for an audience. The butterflies filled my stomach. Really? Did he mean it? Does the thirteen-year-old band actually enjoy playing extra-long live shows in this era where 45-minute sets are somehow acceptable? I’ve been to enough shows to recognize canned audience interaction and this certainly didn’t fall into that domain. I believed him and I appreciated the honesty.
The band ended the set with “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2.” As the song ended, James enthusiastically shouted, “It’s good to be back in Brooklyn again” and unleashed devilish laughter. After he tinkered with the drum machine—changing it to produce breakneck tempos—James danced wildly all over the stage.
My Morning Jacket returned for a delightful encore and ended the night with a fabulous rendition of “One Big Holiday.” The night was splendid but we both knew it couldn’t last forever. The all-too-short summer fling was over but I know I’ll always remember the time we had.
They’re a band that truly excels on stage. Constant touring with the same lineup for the past eight years has not brought the band to lethargy; instead they played with inspired vigor. It was one of those rare concert experiences in my life in which I never grew bored, distracted, or tired—merely focusing on the music for 150 minutes.
At this point my neighbor says, “I’m 40 years old and this is the greatest rock band I have ever seen.”
I believed him.