My Morning Jacket | 10.10.03 | Slim's | San Francisco, CA

I recall making arrangements for the second Bonnaroo in Tennessee, when two well-respected colleagues of mine made a point of telling me, "Make sure you check out My Morning Jacket." I thought to myself... "My Morning Jacket, I've heard that name... OK, yeah, I'll check 'em at Bonnaroo."

By Bradly Bifulco
As it turns out the band played the opening slot at Bonnaroo, and while I was scurrying around in vain to get down to their stage, the need for press passes and the oppressive heat kept me at bay and their set passed me by with barely a hint of the sound splashing in the background on my trek through Centeroo (the main area of the Bonnaroo Music Festival).

Fast forward to mid-September and the release of It Still Moves, My Morning Jacket's third album (first major label release, on ATO/RCA). All of a sudden it became impossible to ignore the hype and questions began to abound. With favorable album reviews on virtually every major media outlet, part of me wanted to hate the band simply on principle. I gave the interesting twelve song offering a first listen and was almost indifferent to it. But there was something burried inside that made me want to listen again, and it was the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth consumptions that spoke to me and allowed lead man Jim James to enter my subconscious. It Still Moves quickly became a highlight for me in a year of strong album releases and the real test was set for October 10th, 2003 at Slim's in San Francisco, California. Being the home of Go See Live Music! here at JamBase, I was aching to find out if the band could translate to the live setting.

By Super Dee
The show was on a top ten of hype around here and the buzz was audible throughout the week leading up to show time. I made my way to Slim's with plenty of time to get a few overpriced whiskey drinks in my hand and set up in a favorable spot to find out just what was going on with this here My Morning Jacket. The five unassuming men from Kentucky came on stage and looked kinda like a bunch of cats who maybe just got off Panic, Phish or whatever other tour you may be following. Faded jeans, old T-shirts, shaggy, unkempt longhair, a few tattoos and some beards. While they looked like a scraggly bunch of throw backs (mind you, so do I and most of my friends), their sound is refreshingly original and damn powerful.

This notion of originality is what drives my attraction to MMJ. The fact that I don't hear Trey Anastasio's guitar echoing at every corner or techno-pop washes at every turn is a welcome addition to many of the bands that are currently touring. Now don't get me wrong, while the band is doing something original you can certainly hear the genre straddling influences ranging from the likes of The Flaming Lips or perhaps Radiohead, to 70s power rock, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and even some heavy metal head banging.

By Bradly Bifulco
The first song of the roughly 75 minute one set sonic assault was also the first off It Still Moves, "Mahgeetah." Without addressing the crowd, Jim James' voice and his Flying V guitar led the band through a raucous opener. As the set continued, the band appeared only concerned with one another and the wall of sound they were creating. Performing songs predominately off their latest offering, but adding in several tracks from their previous two albums, the front three including James, Johnny Quaid on lead guitar, and bassist Two Tone Tommy would frequently meet backs to the crowd, in the center of the stage with hair flying guitar thrashing vigilance a la Crazy Horse. The band remains a faceless enigma hiding behind their hair and James appears almost uncomfortable in the spot light. This is again a welcome change from glory hound solos and "look at how dope I am antics" that seem to permeate much of the live music scene.

By Bradly Bifulco
While there were no real weak links in the set, other highlights included "Dancefloors" which could easily be the soundtrack to your next cross country trip and the anthemic "One Big Holiday" in which a high-hat intro and driving drum beat by power slammer Patrick Hallahan set the pace for James' voice to paint images behind my closed eyes.

There were times when I wanted the band to stretch out a bit more and allow the reverb to bounce off the guitars and the subtle melodic keyboard work of Danny Cash to rise above the mix, but I also realize most bands don't play fourteen minute songs. This is not to say that MMJ doesn't improvise or allow the music to breathe because they most certainly do. It's just done in a slightly safer context than many of the bands I have studied.

By Super Dee
While this was clearly a rock show and a heavy one at that, having a lead man like Jim James allows for certain diversions most bands could never pull off. Bathing in his reverb, James' haunting rendition of "Masterplan" spilled over the crowd keeping them fixated on this peeled back fiendish ballad. The heavy focus on Jim James' voice is surprisingly enjoyable to me. The core of this appreciation is the manner in which his voice is utilized as a sixth instrument as opposed to the more traditional manner of singing words and phrases. There are times when you can barely understand what is being said, and other times when it's just a sound pushing the band in baritone bliss. The heavy reverb and blending of vocals with instruments is what creates the sound that is My Morning Jacket. Not relying on vocals, but allowing them to be an equal part of the sound is certainly a strong suit of the band, and one I trust they will continue to foster.

By Bradly Bifulco
Another of these diversions that James brings to the table is the ability to keep a drinking rock oriented crowd entertained through an acoustic guitar segment. The extended several song encore began with James and his acoustic shattering images of what someone like Dave Matthews does in this setting. I had a slight fear in my gut when I saw James alone on the stage as I am tempted to run at the first sight of a cheesy crowd pleaser. However, like the rest of his performance, Jim James showed that what he is doing is a genuine uncontrived expression and the heavy delivery is damn near impossible to deny. Being able to sing a love song that doesn't make me want to puke is a HUGE achievement. On "Just One Thing" and "Golden" James does more than just make it work, he calls on emotions I rarely bring outside the confines of my small one bedroom apartment. James' soulful singing and apt guitar work proved to be a wonderful accompaniment to the raging rock and roll hair bashing evening of music.

By Bradly Bifulco
Not to leave the crowd on a down note the band (and James' electric) slowly emerged from behind the stage to rip apart a few more manic numbers. Of particular note at this point in the evening was perhaps the bands most expansive and impressive number, "Run Thru." Beginning with an aching slight delayed guitar intro and the hallow echoing sound of James' voice, "Run Thru" builds and breaks with a unique tension release mechanism. As the song progresses, it jumps back and opens up allowing "Two Tone Tommy" to lay down a deep bass bump as Hallahan pushes the sound on drums. There is a brief keyboard featured funk down and then the drums begin to slam and Quaid joins licks with James in a frenetic instrumental display. As the band winds their way to the back end of this monster, one may be inclined to think the song is over as all sound ceases and the members have locked eyes. It's at this point that the lingering guitar that opened the song comes back and all of a sudden there sounds as if a psychedelic choir is backing James. There must be a vocal sample on loop as the band builds this thing back up to a triumphant blow out that left me with my mouth open and eyes popping out of my head.

While the crowd at Slim's was a bit lack luster, doing that indie rock stand still head bop instead of dancing and raging like the band, I was impressed with MMJ's ability to keep the energy on 11. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that the band seems to hardly notice that anyone is even in front of them, and I'm inclined to believe they play with the same ferocious tenacity on their farm in Louisville as they do on tour. As the band continues to hone their already mature sound they very well could harness this momentum and find themselves rocking out in next level. Time will tell if they can add some more textures and a few more subtleties to their already very impressive live feast. The only question that remains to be answered is that of diversity, and the ability to keep people like myself who expect a different show every night enthralled. But upon first viewing I was incredibly impressed and they have only added to the fire they sparked with their records. I think it's safe to assume that you can believe the hype on this one, and I'd expect big things out of this band. Get out and see My Morning Jacket... It Moves.

The Kayceman
JamBase | HeadQuarters
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 10/14/03]

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