My Morning Jacket Colorado Run 2022: Recap, Photos & Audio

The band played two shows at the Dillion Amphitheater and another two concerts at Red Rocks.

By Andrew Bruss Aug 29, 2022 10:28 am PDT

My Morning Jacket’s four-night run through the Rocky Mountain State showcased deep cuts and lengthy jams but more than anything, the clearest sign yet that old wounds have healed. The Kentucky-bred quintet played two nights at the Dillon Amphitheater, an hour west and 3,000 feet higher in elevation than Denver, followed by a pair of shows at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre to close things out.

Their last performance at Red Rocks was in summer 2019, marking their return from an indefinite hiatus that we’ve since learned was as close to a breakup as the group has come in their 20+ year history. Frontman Jim James referenced this on stage, citing it as one of the many reasons Red Rocks, or The Birth Canal, as he’s been calling it for years, is sacred ground to them.

With four shows split between two venues, each was treated as a two-night run without any repeats. While there was some crossover in material between both sites, they each featured their own rarities and extended jams and throughout their time in Colorado, repeatedly winked and nodded to the fact that it was a four-night run in spirit.

A major highlight of these shows was the way the setlists were crafted. Between 2015-2017, their shows became formulaic, and while the music itself didn’t suffer, it took some of the magic out of the experience of seeing them multiple times. Hearing “Victory Dance” as a set opener was fine following the release of 2011’s Circuital, but five years later it got stale. While “One Big Holiday” is as much of a signature song as they’ve got, knowing it would close almost every set did nothing more than make beating the traffic easier.

With that said, in both Dillon and Red Rocks, “One Big Holiday,” served as a mid-set banger and three of the four shows came out of the gate with unconventional openers like “Gideon,” “I Will Sing You Songs,” and “Holding Onto Black Metal.” “Gideon” showcases one of the fiercest howls of the last 25 years of rock music and using it to open the set was like announcing to the audience that Jacket would be skipping the foreplay and going straight at it for the next two and a half hours.

Jacket isn’t a conventional jam band by any definition, and most of the material they play regularly changes little from night to night, so a big part of what makes each live show unique is the way they craft the setlist. Their material is aggressively eclectic, covering territory ranging from country and folk to R&B, funk/metal fusion, reggae and hard rock, and the way they order their setlist plays a big part in determining precisely what kind of experience their audience is going to have.

Between unexpected opening numbers, a plethora of rarities from their first two albums, and some expansive top-shelf improvisation, Jacket demonstrated in Colorado that the days of staying close to script are behind them and they’re committed to fully utilizing the breadth of their back catalog to make every show truly special.

On the improvisational front, one of the big stories that came out of this run was their show-closing rendition of “Phone Went West” during the second night in Dillon. But the highlight of the entire run may have been their take on “Dondante” during the first Red Rocks show.

Jacket performed a now-famous version of the closing track off 2005’s Z that came in close to a half hour long during their return to performing in 2019 at Red Rocks but length doesn’t equal quality and the 2022 version at Red Rocks might take the cake. In between the song’s sole verse and chorus, the act took advantage of the loose compositional structure of the lengthy tune and took things in a direction they never had before. The jam featured brand new melodic themes they whipped up on the fly and immediately circled the wagons around that fans kept reporting sounded like a different song altogether.

Another highlight of the run was the ease at which Jim James seemed to let his guard down. The enigmatic frontman has long been defined by his extraordinary charisma onstage, which toward the second half of the act’s history has been increasingly contrasted by introverted tendencies he’s presented on stage through the use of sunglasses and capes. But these days, he’s stripped the armor off to showcase the absolute vulnerability in his eyes during their most gut-wrenching material.

On songs like “Wordless Chorus,” “Victory Dance, and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” where he doesn’t use a guitar, James’ often use the cape to play peek-a-boo with the crowd in a way that was playful and endearing but simultaneously increased that barrier he’d built between himself and his audience. Seeing him perform these songs fully exposed displayed a reclaimed comfort with letting the real James Olliges Jr. shine through his Jim James frontman persona to lay bare.

It’s easy to think of the two-year hiatus between 2017 and 2019 as a turning point for My Morning Jacket, but for as much as fans speculated about it, the gap isn’t the best marker to differentiate eras of the band. Fans of Phish easily differentiate the 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 eras as being separated by their post-Big Cypress hiatus from 2000-2002 and again from their 2004 breakup to their 2009 reunion. But as tempting as it is to apply those standards to Jacket, if a distinction needs to be made between MMJ 1.0 and 2.0, that mark should be set in 2008 when James fell off the stage and suffered extensive muscular skeletal injuries.

Prior to his fall, he was a physically ferocious performer who thrashed and wailed on stage like a bucking bronco. In a 2015 interview with JamBase, he explained, “[Something I didn’t use to do was] just trying to stand still. I feel like I couldn’t sit still. I was filled with something that made me want to head bang and jump around all the time…”

After recovering from those injuries, he wasn’t the same performer and never has been. Where the band has relied less on a theatrical display of performative energy, Jacket 2.0 has paid greater mind to its instrumental prowess and the multifaceted approach to creating a musical identity that is more improvisational and experimental in the live setting. A good example of that is the degree to which James has increasingly incorporated two-handed tapping into longer songs like “Dondante,” “Steam Engine,” and “Phone Went West.” Even since their performances this past March at One Big Holiday, it’s a technique James has markedly improved at.

Jacket 1.0 was a force of nature in the live setting that showcased a physicality to their performances that you couldn’t take your eyes off of. In the 2.0-era, a greater emphasis has been placed on instrumental exploration and the curation of each performance as a concert-going experience unique unto itself that encourages fans to attend multiple shows in a row.

Whether you just did the Red Rocks shows or attended the two in Dillon prior, the dividends paid for investing in the Colorado run were bountiful. Between the deep cuts, the inspired jams, creative choice in openers, or seeing bandmates at peace with each other and themselves, through four shows in Colorado, it could not be more clear that it’s an outstanding time to be invested as a fan.

It’s tempting to call this peak Jacket 2.0 but that wouldn’t be accurate. Their ceiling is through the roof and the high water mark just keeps going up.

Loading tour dates

Audio Taped by Alex Leary

August 23 – Dillon

August 24 – Dillon

August 26 – Red Rocks

August 27 – Red Rocks

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