A swelteringly hot summer evening couldn’t stop the rock on Sunday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion, where My Morning Jacket and Jason Isbell came to share material from their recent albums and more.
A lauded guitarist and songwriter, Isbell released his fifth record, Something More Than Free, just over a week ago. The album has already broken expectations by reaching number one on not just the country Billboard charts, but on the rock, indie, and folk charts as well. At the core of his 11-song opening set were five tracks from that album, along with several each from the previous two releases, Southeastern and Here We Rest. Longtime fans even got some service in “Decoration Day,” the title track of one the Drive-By Truckers – a band Isbell famously did some time in – most memorable albums.
Isbell’s songs are narratives; each one feeling like it has a story to tell, something which could easily be lost to an opening act in a venue the size of Merriweather where thousands of people are there only to see the main act (especially a quiet country artist opening for a rock band known for their much louder performances). But Isbell and his band the 400 Unit managed to draw the attention of that crowd surprisingly well, and by the end of his set he’d surely made more than a few new fans.
My Morning Jacket are, of course, no strangers to Merriweather at this point, having played the pavilion several times over the last half decade. Their latest album (and first distributed by Capitol Records) The Waterfall is bigger and in some ways more commercial than their previous releases, but still manages to feel very much like a My Morning Jacket record. Live, the band took the opportunity to present the new tracks intermixed with old, making its place in their catalog even more clear.
From the opening notes of the title track of 2011’s Circuital, the audience knew they were in for a special show – just as they expected from what was surely one of their favorite bands. Followed by what is, parenthetically at least, the title track of the latest album, “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” and a trio of tracks from 2009’s Z (“It Beats for You,” “Wordless Chorus,” and “Off the Record”), the show felt like one hit after another. Though he rarely spoke between songs, singer and guitarist Jim James’ commanding stage presence held the center of attention. The arrangements were, if possible, even more rocking and bombastic than the album versions, and older tracks like “It’s About Twilight Now” from the band’s 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire were updated to bring their lo-fi indie rock sound up to speed with the full production values of the band’s latest sound while losing none of their urgency.
All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.