Words by Dennis Cook :: Images by Dave Vann

My Morning Jacket :: 11.11.05 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA

MMJ :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
The forest on stage was a dead giveaway that My Morning Jacket aren't like the other children. This was a rock show that welcomed fairy tales and candy-coated mythology, and all with a good beat you can dance to. MMJ embraces incongruous juxtapositions and make us love them too. They rock heroically, but they also moan with a bracing tenderness that might cause tears to well up. While many bands would be thrilled with the opening slot, they gave it to spoken word artist Saul Williams, who sang about his African people to a sea of buttermilk. MMJ delights in strange pairings and odd intersections. Combined with their considerable talent, this uncurbed delight in exploration marks them as one of today's greats.

Koster and James :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
In each of the half-dozen times I've seen them perform, I've been instantly possessed by the desire to hit the open road. Not to get away but to drive, top down, through the night with their music blasting impolitely. Such is their propulsion and their demeanor. It makes me long for unknown highways of my own, singing along to "Golden" as the sun breaks through the clouds. Like pistons firing, what they do triggers a neuron storm in my head that's positively intoxicating. There's just something about the way Jim James sings and the way the boys play. As Jim once put it, "Why's it so strange when they say that the world's movin' upwards?"

Our ascent began in earnest with "One Big Holiday," which has the same vibe if not character as southern rock epics like The Outlaws' "Green Grass And High Tides" and yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," which MMJ clowned convincingly to in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown. The expression "Go big or go home" fluttered into my thoughts as they revved up the instrumental tail section. This one and recent winner "Wordless Chorus" tap into divine energies. It catapults us into a transitory state where we're open to pregnant and open-ended ideas. They make me think of Gabriel and his golden horn, Samson swinging the jawbone of an ass at the Philistines.

MMJ :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
Even more impressive is how they accomplish this in song form, bypassing the usual roadblocks that language frequently throws up when approaching holy things. During the performance, more than one friend commented that they often couldn't understand much of what James was singing but they were still hungry for more. In the case of "Wordless Chorus," the feeling transcends words. It is pure sound that reaches in and squeezes our spirit.

MMJ :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
Via the internet and postcards, the band requested the audience wear "fantasy" clothing. In a note from Jim James, they explained they'd be filming the shows for a DVD, more a movie than a standard concert flick, and it would make them happy if we decked ourselves out as "faeries and wizards and goblins," and "if you have a pumpkin and two mice that you can turn into a stagecoach drawn by horses, you should ride to the show in that and our monkey butler will help you out and into the club." All around were Commedia dell'Arte masks and ruffled shirts, glowing jewelry and face paint, smoking jackets and lacey underthings. It made me think what a drab affair we allow most concert outings to be. I'm guilty of sporting a five o'clock shadow and a Black Crowes t-shirt as my standard issue uniform and instantly regretted not digging through my wardrobe for something with more flair. It's a fine thing that MMJ inspires low impact frivolity like this. We need more occasions for fabulousness.

Carl Broemel :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
The freshest faces in the band, keyboardist Bo Koster and guitarist Carl Broemel, bring a lusty vigor to the older material. Cuts from The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn come off like new men with fresh walking shoes and a fetching haircut. Broemel has an unpredictable brilliance that recalls Radiohead's underrated genius Jonny Greenwood, and Koster's spiky, pretty keys have expanded their tonal palette exponentially. With this pair, it's even clearer that if talent and sheer musicality ruled the charts, MMJ would have been hit makers for years already. As it is, I imagine they're platinum on the Bizarro World Top 40, where they share wine at award ceremonies with a Beach Boys that never lost Brian Wilson (in several regards), a Marvin Gaye that outlived his father, and a Jim Henson that's still making music with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Bizarro World is a fun place.

Broemel and Koster slot in perfectly with SIMPLY ONE OF THE GREATEST RHYTHM SECTIONS OF ALL TIME. Pardon the capitols, but bassist Two-Tone Tommy and drummer Patrick Hallahan don't get nearly enough credit. They're the cradle from which everything is birthed, the foundation that permits their comrades to build so tall. The proof of this is the many times you'd find everyone except the fixed-position Koster huddled around the drum kit, turned away from the crowd, feeding off the low-end surge and then unleashing their own charged howls. At one point, I found myself caught up in Tommy's super-sized shadow on the red-curtained wall. My head obediently nodded in time with his, and as I looked around, I saw that at least a dozen others had been transfixed by the same spell.

MMJ :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
At the Fillmore, MMJ showed they might be the closest thing America has to a homegrown Radiohead. The comparison is a specific one. Each band moves to their own idiosyncratic drum, consciously crafting albums with ambitious intent and, with little of the usual media fanfare, winning hearts and minds without ever pandering. Both are groups that folks tuck close to their breast, allowed an intimacy and import we don't usually offer musicians. Tinged with majesty and not a little swaggering sauciness, MMJ grows like ripples in water. Most amazingly, they accomplish this by simply being true to their muse. Each release has further defined their vision, and their fans have only increased the further into this thing they go. It may not be long before My Morning Jacket begins to fill amphitheatres, which befits music that longs for open skies and a thousand-voice chorus.

MMJ :: 11.11 :: The Fillmore, CA
As they stated at the start, they are the innovators when most others are imitators. When MMJ says it, there's a bit of tongue-in-cheek to their braggadocio. They're too good-natured, too much fans themselves, to really dis the competition. But their music validates the statement in profound ways. All the fists in the air and spontaneous hoots of "Hell yeah!" testify to their allure. There's something that reaches us in a way most other music doesn't. Maybe it's the warrior's lament of "Run Thru" that grips you, makes you ache for all who are afraid. Maybe it's the climb to the moon in "Anytime" that draws you in. Or maybe, like me, it's the whole shooting match you adore. My Morning Jacket brings the skyward reverie of Handel down to earth for folks that like Maker's Mark. It's folk music for the Gods, and I'm sure, just like the dance floor in San Francisco, they were shuffling with all their might in Olympus on this Friday night.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 11/28/05]

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Tan starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 01:23PM
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MMJ is awesome. Cook is awesome.

BUT THAT STAGE. My god. Seen over 50+ shows at the Fillmore, and I've never seen it look like that. Personally, I like a little more dance, but this show (Saturday at least) was jaw dropping.

Great review Dennis. Homegrown Radiohead indeed.

SuperDee starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 03:11PM
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everything's just great... the show, the photos, the words... overwhelmingly wonderful.

Tennille starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 03:17PM
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Great stuff here, Dennis.

toestothenose starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 07:38PM
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Thanks for the wicked trip to the left coast guys. If only we could make all the shows - all the time.


Dgold starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 10:42PM
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Well-posted, Dennis & Dave. Thanks for the insights Jambase!


ted starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/28/2005 11:06PM
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Exactly, Dr. Cookie. You hit many nails on the head here. It's our Radiohead crossed with the spiritual power of the Grateful Dead. I haven't felt levitation-inducing energies like that at the Fillmore since...well, forever. This band is so where it's at in 2005, and they are not going away....only to be getting stronger with each album, with each Bonnaroo, with each new convert. How many other bands would you go see any night of the week? (besides The Slip) Thanks to Aaron and Dee for showing me the light of My Morning Jacket. I'll never forget this weekend for so many reasons. See you at NYE in NYC, Carl!

jz Tue 11/29/2005 12:26PM
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the thing about dennis cook is that, more than any other writer, he makes me wish i was there. and not just for the music, but for the meaning and the emotion that he mines from what for most mightve been just another concert. great job here, cookie. ive never heard anyone articulate the jacket better.

pair the prose w the pics and youve got a pretty giddifying (is that a word? its how i feel) piece. great work, fellas.

when does MMJ get the golden crown they deserve?

TK -- NYC for NYE? ditto, kiddo. lets rage.

JimmyD1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/29/2005 02:07PM
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Reading Dennis' writing is so intense that I feel like I need a cigarette afterwards, and there is no better band to be the topic than My Morning Jacket. The only thing growing faster than my appreciation for them is their own success. Great Stuff!!

PlanetVibes starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/29/2005 02:37PM
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Great article, cool pics...Unbelievable band always pushing the proverbial envelope. Levitation indeed homes!

snappy Wed 11/30/2005 06:28AM
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Dennis here. I'm gigantically touched your very nice, humbling comments. Thank you so much. This is my craft and it's huge for me to know I get it right from time to time.

Mark my words, NYE in NYC is going to be a night of pure, unadulterated magic. I look forward to sharing the first sunrise of 2006 with some of you.

Jukebox Hero starstarstarstarstar Wed 11/30/2005 12:44PM
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Jukebox Hero

Excellent review of an excellent band. It has been incredible watching this band grow from a small outfit with a pretty good buzz in my hometown of Louisville (Jim James dated my babysitter) to blowing up the 2nd stage at last years Bonnaroo and now on MSG at New Years. I am just so glad that this band is getting the attention and appreciation that they deserve. Hoepfully they will be around for years to come. And hopefully they will play some stealth shows in Louisville. ALthough they have added some important peices and seriously honed their craft, I long for the days of catching these guys in an audience of 150 people.

HelpSlipFrank Thu 12/1/2005 01:18PM
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But Dennis, just wondering, do you like these guys or not? Seriously they seem to be worthy of the hype. Nice use of words and informative, nice piece.

Atlien starstarstarstarstar Sat 12/3/2005 11:45AM
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I missed them in ATL just recently, hopefully they'll be back through in 06. Peace ya'll.

ps: Driving through the mountains on a starry night listening to MMJ is a religious experience.

Nibble starstarstarstarstar Tue 12/6/2005 09:00AM
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This article is over the top and beautifully written. A perfect due paid to MMJ. Everytime I have seen them they invoke the exact same experience as descibed. Just barely able to quantify it, you have to see it to understand. Go see MMJ at least once, you will not be disappointed.

MangoNutbag star Thu 12/8/2005 09:48AM
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not trying to be a hater but i don't get these guys. saw them live once and thought they sure do know how to head bang but don't bring the rock. seriously too much headbanging, not enought talent.

jerryil Fri 12/9/2005 06:26PM
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Try a different beat guys

eck675 starstarstarstar Sat 12/10/2005 03:48PM
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IT WASN'T JIM THAT HAD THE IDEA FOR FAERIES, it was two-tone tommy--good article though

beth starstarstarstarstar Sun 12/11/2005 04:26PM
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Love it. MMJ is freakin' awesome. They played in Madison,
WI Oct. 27 at the Annex, which is a really small venue, and it was sold out and AWESOME!!!! I predict next time they come to town they will be playing a much bigger venue. Keep rockin' the accurate reviews Dennis!