12/28/08 (Video/Audio after the jump) The first time I saw My Morning Jacket live, I was impressed. That was about three years ago. Then I saw them at Austin City Limits. Whoa Nelly! It was one of the most disappointing shows I’ve ever seen. They embarrassed themselves. They embarrassed me … I forced a couple people to see them with me that day. The whole band seemed drunk, or high, or both (it was, then, no surprise that guitarist/singer Jim James ‘fell’ off the stage in October, canceling the originally scheduled Chicago shows.) Simply put, the show amounted to little more than un-choreographed noise. And there’s nothing worse than seeing a terrible performance from a band you really like – it can turn you off of them for a while, as it did me. So, as I walked into The Chicago Theatre to see them for a third time, I was skeptical. In my eyes, it was their last chance. And this time, they did not disappoint.
Want to write your own My Morning Jacket concert review? Get your My Morning Jacket Tickets – from Barry’s Tickets today! And be sure to stay on the lookout for Jim James’ new project, a collaboration with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, and M. Ward under the name Monsters of Folk, to be released on September 22. Back to the review…
They opened with “At Dawn” and it was immediately apparent that James was in better shape (and without his beard) than the last time. He came to play, and sing. He was on key and, based on appearances, recovered from his October injuries and sober.
A couple of songs later they busted out their latest big hit from the new Evil Urges, “I’m Amazed.” For the first time, I was transported back to the My Morning Jacket I knew. It sounded perfect. Timing is crucial for that song and it was spot-on. From there, it marched on like a typical MMJ show – rhythm, meandering jams, soul and the pleasant, distinct, high-pitched tone that is Jim James.
Chicago Theatre is a masterpiece (lobby pictured above.) Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the architecture is beautiful. So much so that James commented on it – saying something to the effect of how we live in a linear world, full of straight lines, steel and glass, and how refreshing it was to be in a place with architecture that resembled the human brain. Something like that. He was clearly enjoying the place and I think that added to their enthusiasm on stage. The acoustics are solid and the space is large but cozy.
There’s something so cool about watching someone rock a Flying V guitar. James did several times throughout the show, and watching him thrash is just plain fun. It’s a testament to the distinct flavor of MMJ – they go from playing ballads, mixed with jam sessions, mixed with metal – and at no time do they sound out of their element. In one of the more surprising developments, a new sound was tossed in when they played a new song, “Highly Suspicious.” It’s kind of Devo-ish and has all the makings of 80’s inspired electronica. Throw in James’ high-pitch and you’ve got … something. I admit, on the album, I wasn’t a fan of the song at all (reviews have continually blasted it.) But hearing and seeing it live – a whole different story. It nearly blew the roof off. The accompanying light show (pictured) was cool too. Don’t know if I’ll be jamming the song in my apartment, but I hope they play it live when I see them again.
James brought out an interesting instrument during several songs (including ‘Touch me I’m going to Scream Part 2’) that I’ve never seen. From my vantage point, it looked and kind of sounded like a keytar, but it’s not. I don’t know what it is, but it made for some interesting sounds. Leave a comment below if you can help me out.
The crowd was just about exactly what I expected. A spattering of middle-agers but mostly twenty-somethings and college kids on winter break. By far, the most entertaining was a young couple (pictured) – him in sleeve tattoos and her in pigtails. He did some headbanging, while she attempted to dance. All I kept thinking was, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” It was a strange bob-and-weave with absolutely no rhythm. Not as bad as Elaine Benes, but not far off either. At least she was having fun. And so was everyone else. From the devout fans singing along to every song, to the casual observer, the crowd was enjoying a good experience.
Yes, My Morning Jacket atoned for their Texas sins. I’m still a little peeved (I passed up Wilco for them) but I feel much better listening to them again. They were sharp and focused, and made some great music. I wouldn’t put it in my top 5, but it was very good, and I would recommend seeing them on this tour, should they pass through your town. I’ll be on the lookout for when they come back to Chicago.
It’s not permitted to record at this venue … a Sound Citizen was caught in the act and forced to erase the recording, as well as check her camera. So, I couldn’t get any real video, but managed to get some audio of “Golden,” a personal favorite. You can hear it below, just don’t pay attention to the actual video.