My Morning Jacket at BMO Harris Pavilion
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It’s strange to think that My Morning Jacket was once a straight-up alt-country band. Jim James’ flailing mane is by now as iconic as his band’s Skynyrd-worthy rock-and-roll bluster, but over the course of his decade-plus career, he has gradually endeared himself as much to hipsters as to hippies, bridging the gap between folk and funk like few—if any—artists before. It’s quite a feat to branch out into so many different styles without losing your identity in the process, but despite some patchy albums, it’s been MMJ’s live show that has earned it a sterling reputation among fans and critics alike. Saturday’s performance at the BMO Harris Pavilion did nothing to tarnish that reputation.
The only drawbacks to this show were logistical in nature. The shiny new and undeniably picturesque venue still struggles to draw a capacity crowd, which shouldn’t have been a problem for this bill on a Saturday night. After offering last-minute five-dollar tickets for the Counting Crows show a few weeks ago failed, organizers made the puzzling decision to go in the opposite direction for this show. Some potential attendees might have been turned off by signs at the box office reading “ALL TICKETS $47,” even though general admission tickets were still listed at $30 on Ticketmaster the day of the show (though “unavailable” if you tried to buy them). But the venue, which sounded great for Counting Crows, couldn’t be entirely to blame for the muddy, overdriven sound Saturday night; the speakers might’ve just been cranked too high, but James’ vocals were frequently unintelligible and lost in a swarm of guitar distortion.
This wasn’t a huge distraction, though. The band rolled through a wide selection of its catalog, playing zero cover tunes and concentrating a surprising amount on 2001’s At Dawn album. MMJ turned mellow tunes like “Honest Man”—and especially show-ending “Phone Went West”—into monstrous guitar workouts worthy of AC/DC, and took the already-haunting “Strangulation” to the height of noisy chaos before shifting into the always-impressive “Run Thru,” with its hyperspace middle section and triumphant return to the aching, anthemic main theme.
Last year’s Circuital veered away from the falsetto-funk of 2008’s Evil Urges and back into psych/indie rock territory more akin to Z, MMJ’s best album so far. But overall, Circuital languished in manufactured atmosphere, lacking any solid hooks or experimentation. So it was a bit of a revelation to experience the puzzling lead single “Holdin On To Black Metal” combined with “Victory Dance” and “Circuital” to form the magnificent centerpiece of this show, taking the ironic heaviness of “Black Metal” into actual dark, disturbing territory, and blending all three songs together as a natural suite. Beginning with “Honest Man,” a good hour of dynamic, unpredictable rock went by with barely a chance to breathe, and following the jubilant “One Big Holiday” closer, there was still a lengthy six-song encore to come, a generous two-and-a-half hours all told. My Morning Jacket has found a way to approximate the thrill of expert improvisation without all the risk of falling flat; maybe it’s only the song selection that provides variation between shows, but in terms of a balls-out rock show, it doesn’t get a heck of a lot better than this.
The Way He Sings
Outta My System
It Beats 4 U
Holdin On To Black Metal
One Big Holiday
Look At You
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Part 2
Phone Went West