My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks, 8/4/12
Jon Solomon My Morning Jacket as seen on Friday night at Red Rocks. The band looked much the same on Saturday night.
MY MORNING JACKET @ RED ROCKS | 8/4/12
My Morning Jacket albums are concise volumes, recalling '70s rock anthems that wailed but kept excess to a minimum. MMJ's concert at Red Rocks last night, however, was another thing entirely. Sprawling like an octopus's tentacles across three hours of noodly goodness, this concert was not one for casual fans.
The show began innocently, almost conservatively, with New Orleans native Trombone Shorty and South Carolina-via-Seattle beard-rockers Band of Horses. The latter's set showcased an act playing it safe, performing songs as they appeared verbatim on its three albums. Frontman Ben Bridwell's only between-song banter? "We've been Band of Horses, and we still are," is indicative of the terse vibe the band generated.
My Morning Jacket emerged fifteen minutes after the final chords of "The Funeral." Casual, confident, and without any fanfare, Jim James and company simply picked up and played. "At Dawn," the first song from its namesake 2001 album, began the set. James strummed an acoustic guitar briskly, wearing some weird blue-red dashiki/cape-type thing while singing the song exactly as he did in the studio eleven years back.
It was an unassuming way to begin the set. A few minutes later, as the sun went down and the first strong wafts of marijuana floated through the audience, the quintet followed up with another At Dawn standout, "Xmas Curtain." James had shed his Tibetan superhero cape and loosened up a bit. Hair began shaking, guitar lines got skronkier and the drum riser became a jungle gym for James to climb onto, his electric guitar pealing through "I'm Amazed" and "It Beats 4 U."
This is a group of musicians in their prime. The Louisville, Kentucky, band that famously used to record in a grain silo (for extra reverb) is now a bona fide arena rock outfit. MMJ took a huge leap forward in 2004 and 2005, first with a lineup change that brought Bo Koster and Carl Broemel into the fold, and then with the release of Z, the band's most commercially viable album to date.
Whereas previously (on personal favorites The Tennessee Fire, At Dawn and It Still Moves), MMJ invoked the spirit of Gram Parsons' and/or Galaxie 500 on nearly every track, the latter part of the 2000s showed a group becoming flashier and more challenging -- even if occasionally to its detriment.
Just as all babies aren't born equally cute, not all MMJ experiments will show the band's knack for creating pop hooks and meditative slow-burners. Exhibit A: "Highly Suspicious," the criminally tacky quasi-disco song from 2008's Evil Urges. The laser beams shot out from the stage lights. The audience's gyrations en masse looked like hipsters being teargassed while hula-hooping.
I felt like Odysseus tied to the mast, wherein if I gave myself over to the song, I would die.
It was just awful.