My Morning Jacket Ends Hiatus At Red Rocks: Setlist, Review & Photos
Images by: Jeremy Williams
Sixty million years ago, colliding tectonic plates thrust ancestral layers of Precambrian and Paleozoic stone to the heavens. Millennia later, the Ute people stumbled upon a bright red bowl of acoustic splendor, perfect for ritual and celebration. And from the moment that entrepreneur John Brisben Walker built the first wooden stage in the early 1900s, over a century of modern ritual and celebration has continued, right up to the Friday night that rock icons My Morning Jacket ended their 17-month hiatus with an energetic collision that made the revered amphitheater blush a deeper red.
Since early 2018’s One Big Holiday destination event in the Caribbean, the five band members have kept busy living, creating and collaborating, most notably fearless leader Jim James. He’s toured heavily with a solo band (that occasionally included MMJ drummer Patrick Hallahan) in support of companion releases Uniform Distortion and Uniform Clarity, wrote and performed a suite with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra, sang “Us & Them” with Dark Side of the Mule at the 2018 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam and most recently performed “The Rainbow Connection” with soul mate Kermit the Frog at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival. But Jacket fans were clamoring for more, and as this year marks the 20th anniversary of debut album, The Tennessee Fire, it was time to brush it off and make it shine.
As the abundance of fans who were lucky enough to score this incredibly tough ticket entered the sacred bowl on a hot high-desert evening in early August, L.A. indie rock goddesses Warpaint primed the canvas with expansive psychedelia. The eager masses, saving their energy at first, slowly rose in elation to the lush sounds that flowed amidst the sunset-painted geological masterpiece.
And then the light was gone, save for the glistening pinpoints of light from the urban skyline beyond, intermingled with sparks of anticipation. James, Hallahan, guitarist Carl Broemel, bassist Tom Blankenship, and keyboardist Bo Koster took the stage, the crowd roared at an 11, eerie green Circuital light washed over the stage and the familiar one-two punch of “Victory Dance” > “Circuital” kicked off a night of magnificently-rendered classics. The former lyrically gave thanks to openers Warpaint and accompanying “setting sun,” and the latter poured dreamy waves of multi-colored sound that segued gently into the perennially sunny “Xmas Curtain.” For the first of many times throughout the evening, the track from sophomore album At Dawn was punctuated with a seemingly self-directed chuckle from James. Either he was laughing off a vocal miscue that only he could hear, or he was just having that grand of a time. “First Light,” another rocker from Circuital palpitated the crowd straight into the first big dance party of the evening, by way of the rockabilly swing of “Easy Morning Rebel.”
Five songs in, it was evident that there was little rust on the briefly shelved quintet, and James in particular was elated, judging by how chatty he became. “1000 years from now … in an outer space Goodwill,” said James, some kid will find a laptop ripe with mp3s (“it sounds so good!”) and the first song he hears will be the opening track from The Tennessee Fire, “Heartbreakin’ Man.” Only two tunes would be played from the debut album, which was slightly surprising (or perhaps not), considering the upcoming 20th anniversary celebration at the Capitol Theatre next weekend. Another, more bubbly, old classic, “Lowdown,” bounced right into a slow, slow breather by way of the fourth Circuital track of the evening, “Slow Slow Tune.”
Next up was “Smokin’ From Shootin’,” a luminous composition that rides along atop Broemel’s pedal steel and Hallahan’s pulsing beat before tumbling down the waterfall of 2015 warhorse “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall).” A big singalong and extended guitar shred followed, in the form of mega-hit single, “I’m Amazed.” After one of the longer jams of the night thus far, chatty James made sure that the crowd kept turning around and giving thanks to the two rising pillars of metamorphic stone that he christened, “The Birth Canal of the Universe.” The subsequent vocals of “War Begun” rose through said canal in an echo that harkened back to the silo where they were originally recorded two decades prior.
The duo of “War Begun” and “I Will Sing You Songs” combined epic shreddery from James and airy, vibrant ambiance from Koster’s keys that sweetly rolled into “Golden.” Couples danced below the starlit sky to the song that was played at their weddings, while others held their beers (some from the town down the road of the same name) high in reverence. “… and on heaven’s Golden shore, we’ll lay our heads,” gave way to an extended acoustic outro from James, followed by his executed request for darkness and silence. “Not a peep.” Magical.
Overhead near the center of row 33: “I think I say this every time, but that was the finest ‘Dondante’ I’ve ever seen live.” Clocking in at around 27 minutes and never threatening to quit for a millisecond, the argument could certainly be made. The celestial wail of Broemel’s saxophone eddied and swirled amidst the starry sparkle of the disco ball, reminding all that Bono was right: Red Rocks truly is The Edge … and Jim James was right as well: Red Rocks truly is “The Birth Canal of the Universe.”
Another classic singalong, “The Way That He Sings,” picked up the pace and hit an immaculately tight right turn into “What A Wonderful Man.” It was clear that there was plenty of steam left in this engine. A big finish and ensuing darkness and applause felt like a solid closer to the set, but as the crowd quieted in anticipation, the extra-slinky opening notes of “Run Thru” cut like a hot, buttery knife through the night air and the crowd roared. The band milked this unabridged version for every penny it was worth and then some, right up to the anthemic end. Cue the curtains.
When he returned front and center, Jim James humbly gave thanks to the virtue of the place, and what it meant to him. “It matters to me … took a long time to get here,” he then sang. “But if it would have been easy, I would not have cared.” After wrapping up a singularly tear-inducing rendition of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” James reminded us that a place with no fear, where the spirit is near, the living is easy and the people are kind is “100% possible.” The first step is to “Believe,” and so they went ahead and played the opening anthem to their most recent album, 2015’s The Waterfall. The midpoint of the encore was a rendition of “Master Plan” that alternated between “so sweet” and so hardcore. Next, Koster’s synth-pop keys gave way to dual guitars thrashing over Blankenship’s driver-seat low end. The celebratory rocker, “Anytime,” had the crowd singing and dancing with reckless abandon, and the extended “Mahgeetah” that followed to close the night drained every last ounce of energy from every last fan … that is, until tonight.
Full Show Audio (Taped by Alex Leary)
Fan-Shot Videos (Captured by mano1971music)
The Way That He Sings
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
- Deep Blue Day
- Victory Dance
- X-Mas Curtain
- First Light
- Easy Morning Rebel
- Heartbreakin Man
- Slow Slow Tune
- Smokin' From Shootin'
- In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)
- I'm Amazed
- War Begun
- I Will Sing You Songs
- The Way That He Sings
- What a Wonderful Man
- Run Thru
- Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
- Believe (Nobody Knows)
- Master Plan