Watchin' a crowd roll in
Out go the lights, it begins.
A feelin' in my bones I never felt before...

--lyrics from "Golden"

My Morning Jacket :: Sunday, May 16th :: Fox Theatre :: Boulder, CO

My Morning Jacket are enjoying a serious buzz right now. Their major label debut It Still Moves garnered so much critical acclaim that a new audience is starting to check them out. Many of these folks will have listened to that CD before seeing them live, and they're going to be pleasantly surprised. On disc, the quintet demonstrates an appreciation for quieter, reflective moments that provide a wonderful contrast to their heavier rock moments. In concert, the full visceral impact of the music and the performance engage you like no home stereo system ever could.

Boulder's Fox Theatre offered an intimate setting to participate in the MMJ experience and see what the fuss is all about. Jim James, he of the rapturous voice, is the band's centerpiece and leader, carrying an almost theatrical presence on stage and exuding a sense of mystery. His locks shroud his face as he sings, hiding his eyes from the audience, leaving us to focus on the reverb-treated vocals, the reverb-treated guitar, and inevitably, the plastic parrot on his shoulder.

Early in the set, a couple catchier songs from It Still Moves like "One Big Holiday" and "Dancefloors" grounded the audience right away. Fortunately, the band dug into its early works and offered a broader exposure to their sound. One of these, "Death is the Easy Way," creeps on you with a ghostly slide guitar, echoing violin, and James' haunting vocals painting an almost tangible sense of dread. Another early song, "Lowdown" lures you in with an upbeat keyboard melody by new member Bo Koster but the pop tune is soon colored with melancholy guitar by James and Carl Broemer.

Broemer, the other new band mate, certainly didn't come off as a rookie, and had the chops to fill in seamlessly. He ably switched to the lap pedal steel on several tunes. Bassist Two-Tone Tommy and drummer Patrick Hallahan pack a vibrant rhythm section punch. In "Run Thru" and "Cobra," both monster Sabbath-style jam romps, Hallahan drove his kit like a Mack truck mowing down anything in its path.

In "The Way That He Sings," James takes on the persona of a fan in the audience when he questions

Why does my mind blow to bits every time they play that song?
It's just the way that he sings, not the words that he says, or the band.
I'm in love with this soul, it's a meaning that I understand.

He's describing what it's like to make a connection with the music and how powerful that feeling is. MMJ throws that lifeline out to you. They craft emotions that curl and linger within each song like smoke from a cigarette. It might be the space between notes, the lyrical compliment to emotional instrumentation, the veil of hair, or likely all of these things, that feed the mystery and keep the audience riveted.

Ultimately, it's the songs that shine. The set contained a balance of calming, delicate sounds and unleashed energy evoking the rock gods of yesteryear. Comparisons to Neil Young and the Band seem to pop up in fan discussion but they only serve as reference points. MMJ's discography reveals a varied set of influences and styles. Each recording seems to shake their fan base with an unexpected turn. The variety and pacing in their live show benefit from this eclecticism.

James called out one new tune, "It Beats For You" with an alternate title that went something like "Space matter transgression policy... in B flat major." It was an ambitious song that rocked, tranced out for a measure, and employed wierder vocal treatment than usual. James has commented that after the current tour, a new studio album is forthcoming. This tune showed some promise for that project.

After a soulful, guitar-less ballad over a drum machine, the band left the stage, one by one. A plastic illuminated ghost inflated at center stage. With the jack-o-lantern posted on a rear monitor, I wondered what was coming next, a trick or treat. The band then returned to play the beautiful sounding "Golden" with its chugging, locomotive beat, and closed the show with "Mahgeetah," rocking considerably harder than its CD counterpart.

I wasn't sure what kind of rock to expect from MMJ given their recent ethereal studio work. After this show, I left convinced that they can bring it with the best of them.

Set list: One Big Holiday, O is the One That is Real, Dancefloors, How Do You (?), The Bear, Death is the Easy Way, It Beats For You, Lowdown, The Way that He Sings, Strangulation, Steam Engine, Run Thru, Cobra, Coxen, Golden, Mahgeeta

Words: Haig Assadourian
Photos: Tony Stack
JamBase | Boulder
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[Published on: 5/26/04]

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