It’s been said that a My Morning Jacket concert has the ability to change you. That’s a bold claim. Rock you? Sure. Energize you? Most definitely. But change you? Pre Friday night, that assertion sounded to me as if it were uttered from the lips of the ultimate My Morning Jacket fanboy. Now, two days after, I have to say: I think they may have been right.
Before we get to all that though, let’s give the opener Neko Case and her band their due. Beautiful. Magestic. Heartfelt. Impeccable. Those are all words that could be used to describe Case. Possessing one of the strongest, most recognizable voices in music today, any chance you have to see her perform should be considered special.
Playing to the quarter-full pavilion (shame on you MMJ fans) as if they were playing to the sold out audience that they performed for in Charlottesville, Va. the night before, Case and her band delivered a quick set (40 minutes) that covered songs from most of her career, including a personal favorite “Knock Loud” from Canadian Amp. It was short, sweet and to the point. And for attendees who were smart enough to make it in time to catch her set, it was a remarkably intimate performance considering the size of the venue. It demonstrated that no matter where she plays, Neko Case is able to put you under her spell with grace and ease.
It should also be noted that enough praise cannot be heaped on Case’s current band, especially Kelly Hogan. Hogan’s voice, though not as recognizable, is also one of the strongest voices in music today. Case has been lucky enough to have had her by her side for pretty much her entire career.
Let’s also give Ms. Case her due for being spot-on about what was coming up . Remarking at the end of her set, “You won’t be the same afterwards,” “You’ll know what you’re supposed to do with your life.”, Case echoed the sentiment I had heard before and again, they were bold words. Only this time they came from someone who might know better than most.
The lights went down, the crowd rose to their feet as the band took the stage, and it was as if a bomb had been set off. Jim James leapt and howled around the stage as the band behind him ran through “Victory Dance” from their latest album Circuital. Watching the band surge in unison to the sung battle cry horns that permeate the track as a seemingly crazed James hi-fived crowd members just quite simply wasn’t what I expecting. Gloriously so.
I have to be honest about a few things here before we go any further. First off, I generally think that, with the exception of Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket’s records are spotty at best. You can read my review of Circuital to get more of a feel for where I’m at with the band’s records. The second thing I have to come clean about is that without question, about 10 years in Richmond, Va. My Morning Jacket delivered the single worst performance I’ve ever seen. From anyone. Whatever the actual reason for that assessment, which is somewhat lost to me now, the fact remains that it turned me off so much that despite all the praise they have garnered in the meantime, it took me 10 years to give the band another chance.
And that was probably 10 years wasted.
To see My Morning Jacket live today is to see the all the rock and roll dreams of youth realized on a level that seemed previously unachievable. Taking all of the joy, craziness and lust for life that gets buried in us far too often as we get older and turning it into a rambunctious assault on the hearts and souls of the audience members, My Morning Jacket’s performance Friday at Merriweather Post Pavilion was quite simply a life affirming event of the highest degree.
And it’s not just Jim James. Sure, he’s the main focus of attention, but if you were able to take your eyes off of him as he stalked the stage, you would have noticed that for the better part of 3 hours, each and every member of the band was firing on all cylinders. There was no let up. There was no break. Aside from a jammy lull about three quarters of the way through the set, this was a performance that leapt out of the gate at top speed and never once put on the breaks. In fact, they never even acknowledged that the brakes even existed.
Powered by this five-man reactor, “Holding On To Black Metal” turned from the slightly silly song that it is on record to a supercharged sing-along that sprung from whatever place it is that rock is born. “Highly Suspicious” was punctuated by tremendous “bass bombs” that were as hysterically funny as they were rocktastically appropriate. Fan favorites “Mageetah”, “Dondante” and an absolutely massive “Off The Record” (from what many consider to be their best effort, Z) seemingly exhausted the crowd, and SHOUL D HAVE exhausted the band. But both came back for more, with full force, for a whopping 2 hours and 37 minutes.
My Morning Jacket has, over the course of ten years, gone from being one of my most ignored bands to one of the best I’ve ever seen. All said and done, this was a show punctuated by nothing but highs. And while there might have been a lull or two over the course of the evening, given the run-time it can be forgiven if not completely expected. The lesson to be learned is that despite all odds, there’s still honest to god real f#$%ing rock and roll being made these days, and no matter how long it takes, it’ll find you. And it WILL change you.
I for one am really glad that it finally did.
Couldn't make the show? We've got you covered! Download the show in it's entirety courtesy of your friendly neighborhood taper, otherwise known as DATBRAD.
My Morning Jacket @ Merriweather Post Pavilion (Photos by Kevin Hill)
Neko Case @ Merriweather Post Pavilion (Photos by Kevin Hill)