The lights dropped, and an electronic hum began to swell, like an electric circuit about to overload. Then the clarion call of “Victory Dance” against dramatic green lighting and dry ice. As the Fender Rhodes twanged, Jim James roamed the stage, the glow of the lights on his helmet of curly locks augmented by an electronic device with green and red lights hanging around his neck. He looked like a hippie troubadour, an impression that gathered strength as the sweet aroma of pot spread through the crowd. As the song built and grew in power, the green lights brightened and finally the eerie green eye that decorates the band’s newest album shone from above the band, as if daring the crowd to be anything less than blown away.
And this was just the first song of My Morning Jacket’s incendiary set at Bank of America Pavilion last night.
It felt like aliens from another planet had landed, opening the ramp of their flying saucer to unleash arena rock gods of the past. The band moved right into “Circuital” with James leaning toward the crowd, acoustic guitar held out, strumming wildly. A classic arena rock move and a transcendent moment, like so many in this show.
Whether twirling in a circle of light at the end of “Off the Record” or dancing with his guitar during “It Beats 4 U” or pulling off some impressively Hendrix-like moves during mid-set (and show highlight) “Mahgeetah,” James has got showmanship down, but manages to do so without coming across as clichéd, partly helped by the fact that he keeps the typically inane stage patter to a minimum and concentrates on setting the fans to rocking. The band supports him in this, their energy level and enthusiasm clear even at th back of the venue. Carl Broemel anchored the left side of the stage with impressive guitar and sax work, bassist Two-Tone Tommy was a solid presence, and drummer Brian Halloran held it together from his riser above the band, at one point moving his arms in an imitation of a clock during the build to a song that got the crowd even more riled.
The set ranged over most the band’s six-album catalog, with the emphasis on its latest (and excellent) release, Circuital, almost every song of which they played. The new songs sounded great, if fairly close to the album versions, although “Holding Onto Black Metal” (the only song on the new album I didn’t much care for) seemed more energetic live, even with the female background vocals delivered (as far as I could tell) via tape. It was on some of earlier material where the band really loosened up and let things howl (such as on the aforementioned “Mahgeetah”).
The mix remained impressive throughout, even as the volume rose. The test to me is always whether or not I can hear the keyboards, which are often the poor cousin to guitar, bass and drums in a live show. But the keyboards remained nicely up in the mix, allowing us to hear the subtle color during “I’m Amazed” or the synthesizer bits in “Gideon” that sounded like keyboardist Bo Koster had dusted off an old Styx album.
The main set itself covered 18 songs and almost two hours with some extended jams in there. This was followed by a five song encore (including what has to be one of the most unexpected covers of all time, that old Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers chestnut, “Islands in the Stream,” with opening act Neko Case, strong as always, in spite of a last-minute substitution of a drummer in her band, providing the Dolly voice).
I’d heard that My Morning Jacket was incredible live and unlike so many situations where expectations are high, they more than lived up to the hype. If you have a chance to see this band live, take advantage. You won’t be disappointed. And you might just experience one or more of those moments of transcendence that happen in the best live shows.
- Victory Dance
- It Beats 4 U
- Off the Record
- I’m Amazed
- Outta My System
- You Wanna Freak Out
- Slow Slow Tune
- Smokin’ from Shootin’
- End of Run ThruFirst Light
- Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
- Holding On to Black Metal
- Honest Man
- Wordless Chorus
- The Day Is Coming
- Islands in the Stream (w/ Neko Case)
- One Big Holiday