My Morning Jacket
The number of bands building a name and reputation off their live performances has begun dwindling at a startling rate. With Bruce Springsteen and U2 inching closer to performing in wheelchairs, My Morning Jacket seems to be one of the last remaining holdouts when it comes to going beyond giving fans what they paid for the cost of a ticket. In fact, one of the band's most popular releases is the two-disc live album Okonokos, released in 2006 after the success of their breakout album Z.
In a live setting, the Louisville-based five-piece manages to break free from the southern rock distinction reserved for them by critics. They played a career-defining four-hour set at Bonnaroo in 2008 and they're one of the only bands I've seen with the ability to transport you to a different headspace with nearly every song. Finished promoting their latest album Circuital, My Morning Jacket is taking a fan-centered approach to their latest tour, deemed the Spontaneous Curation Series. Prior to their three-night stand at the Wiltern, it was announced that fans would be able to submit requests for the opener and encore through Twitter.
After a cover-heavy set at their opening show on Tuesday, Wednesday's show seemed to be truly dedicated to the mega-fan, the band drawing from albums as far back as their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire. Iron and Wine opened the show with an intimate solo performance, as an antsy crowd settled in and opted to use most of his set as background music. For those paying attention though, what they got was an impassioned set full of fan-favorites, stripped down without all the glitz and glamour of the usual seven-piece backing band.
Aside from being an amazing songwriter, Sam Beam is also quite the performer, projecting an air of solace and mystery on songs like “Flightless Bird” and “Such Great Heights.” Even after forgetting the words to New Order's “Love Vigilantes,” he was able to redeem himself by joking “This is the best job in the world. I can fuck up and people will still clap.” After rousing applause, he ceded the stage to My Morning Jacket, who jumped on stage after a 25-minute changeover. The changeover itself, complete with about eight different guitar and drum techs fiddling with various pieces of equipment, is actually a testament to the growth of the band, who've come a long way since starting out in bars and nightclubs throughout the South.
Their opener “Rolling Back” sprawled in to a moody, six-minute long jam that faded seamlessly into “The Way That He Sings.” Watching My Morning Jacket perform almost feels like a cleansing of the soul in a way. With lofty metaphors dealing with life, love and death heavily embedded in their lyrics, the band somehow manages to sell the emotion behind each song and not come off corny. Having seen the band close to ten times, I can say that they only keep getting better and last night was no exception. The band has the rare ability to traverse various genres throughout their sets, and while last night started off a little jam-heavy with newer songs like “First Light” and “Aluminum Park,” things quickly settled down when they dipped in to their back catalog for “Picture of You” and followed it with the audio equivalent of Xanax, “Slow Slow Tune.”
“Picture of You” turned out to be one of the most emotional moments of the set, with singer Jim James projecting the adolescent insecurities embedded in the song, written nearly 15 years ago. “Slow Slow Tune” was followed by “Carried Away,” a contribution from lead guitarist Carl Broemel's solo endeavor. The cover of Erykah Badu's “Tyrone” that followed shortly thereafter was one of several life-affirming moments throughout their set. My Morning Jacket has essentially adopted the song as their own at this point, and with James' delicate vocals gliding perfectly over Tom Blankenship's basslines, it somehow gave even the original version a run for its money.
Eventually, “Cobra” broke down in to a sludgy jam session towards the end, which faded in to “Run Thru” to close out the first set. The encore that followed was a perfect example of why My Morning Jacket is one of the best live rock bands in the world. First, James entered the stage solo for an acoustic performance of “Hopefully” and “I Will Be There When You Die,” which was easily one of the most moving parts of the set. James has somehow figured out how to use his falsetto as its own instrument, and throughout “I Will Be There When You Die,” he managed to project himself as this fragile character, completely at odds with the hair-swinging wildman that just finished shredding on “Run Thru.”
After the rest of the band returned for “Steam Engine,” Sam Beam came out to duet on a cover of George Harrison's “Isn't It A Pity,” one of the highlights of the set. Beam returned later in the encore to hold up the lyrics to “Rock The Casbah,” which were scrawled on the back of a series of posters. After the raucous Clash cover left everyone dancing, the band closed out with fan-favorite “Mahgeetah.” The sense of utter joy that lights up people's faces during the first three chords of the song is one of the reasons I keep coming back to see this band. James belts out the lyrics “So are you ready to go?” with such elated passion, it's hard not feel inspired. By the middle of the song, headbanging was pretty much all I could see in my periphery.
For those that truly enjoy a good rock show, My Morning Jacket can guarantee it pretty much every time with little to no bells or whistles involved. Aside from their instruments, all they brought with them on Wednesday was a hefty lighting rig, a miniature stuffed bear, and a bright red poncho. And yet somehow, they're still able to sell the emotion behind every song. Even having the chance to see a band like this feels like a treat in the Lady Gaga age of costumes, giant screens, and laser lights. Instead, what you get with My Morning Jacket is an aspirational exhibition of showmanship and musical prowess, something you hope will resonate with younger musicians.
The Crowd: Dads and bearded youth, both confused by the presence of one another.
Personal Bias: Louisville is my hometown.
Random Notebook Dump: Shout out to the drunk mom who groped me during “Evil Urges.” Appropriate timing.
Set List below.
The Way That He Sings
What A Wonderful Man
Picture of You
Slow Slow Tune
Carried Away (Carl Broemel song)
Smokin From Shootin
O Is the One That Is Real
Tyrone (Erykah Badu cover)
I Will Be There When You Die
Isn't It a Pity (George Harrison cover) (with Iron & Wine)
Rock the Casbah (The Clash cover)