As I often make a point of complaining about on this site, I don’t have a lot in my life to get excited about. Knowing this, I was more than a bit eager to make my way to Columbus, Ohio on Sunday to catch a performance by My Morning Jacket, a band whose music I have become thoroughly obsessed with in recent months, on the last stop of their spring tour.
And while I naturally had to go through Hell to get to the show (hours and hours of driving, little to no sleep, a very public suspicion of DUI traffic stop((I haven’t had so much as a sip of alcohol in five years)), miserable rainy conditions at the venue, etc.), the end result was anything but disappointing.
While the rain, which beat down rather heavily prior to the show, never fully subsided, it at least began to slow down by the time opening act, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, took the stage. While I am not a connoisseur of jazz music, I was quite taken with their great on stage chemistry, and the sheer joy they seemed to feel playing for an audience they likely don’t generally play for. And if you can close you set by getting a pavilion full of jaded hipsters to join you in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine,” you must be doing something right (though having MMJ members perform three songs with them likely aided in getting the crowd on their side).
At around 8:15, My Morning Jacket took the stage. Before getting into the show itself, I wanted to make an observation about the on-state demeanor of frontman Jim James. James paraded around the stage with a holster containing two toy guns (one of the Nintendo Duck Huntvariety), while intermittently wearing a cape and even doing a few Poisonesque knee slides across the stage. At times he looked like, for lack of a better expression, a massive dork.
And to said dorkiness, I say hell yes! While the music is of course what draws me to a band first, it’s always nice when the performers seem like people I could actually have a conversation with. To watch a band as accomplished as this take the stage without displaying even an ounce of self-importance is very refreshing.
That said, if James and co. ended every song with Kayne West style rants of self-aggrandizement, on this night, they would have backed them up. Mixing songs from their entire catalog, MMJ covered work from all the genres they have so delicately balanced throughout their career. From slam-bang rock (“One Big Holiday,” “Run Thru”), soothing alt-country (“Golden,” “Where To Begin”) and spacey jams (“Lay Low,” and a nearly 15 minute rendition of “Dondante”) the show was an absolute whirlwind. Every time I tried to document what I thought would be a highlight, they managed to top it, quickly making me realize that when the whole product is this good, chronicling individual moments is just pointless.
The biggest surprise in the setlist was a gorgeous new song entitled “Carried Away,” in which James relented lead vocal duties to guitarist Carl Broemel. I’m not exactly sure of any specific plans the band currently has for a new album, but this lovely tune seems to indicate good things are in store.
Normally I don’t pay a lot of mind to stage set up, but MMJ’s combination of lights actually added a cool visual element to the show. Even the annoying rain, which continued to fall off and on as they performed, glowed nicely off the stage lights and actually managed to look like a cool effect in and of itself.
It was also nice to see a band with enough material to support a two-and-a-half hour show that actually plays for two-and-a-half hours. Sure a 16 or 17 song performance would have quite cool, but everyone would have left knowing there was a lot more music to play (which I guess technically there still was, but this is just splitting hairs). All told, MMJ played 23 songs, and by the time they got to the end (an electric rendition of the Curtis Mayfield tune “Move On Up” featuring Preservation Hall Jazz Band) it felt like a rare show where you got every cent worth.
The closest thing I had to a complaint about the show was simply that my favorite album, The Tennessee Fire, was completely ignored. This is really more of an observation than an actually objection, as I don’t feel any animosity towards the band for not including any of the albums’ tracks, though I will acknowledge hearing “Picture Of You” could have made the show marginally better.
This was the first concert I’ve been to in 14 months, and when one goes that long in between shows, he tends to scold himself for not seeing more live music. But then when the opportunity to see arguably the best band in the world right now, it sort of offers validation to my low concert turnout, as it ultimately makes much of the world’s mediocre musical ensembles just seem trivial. For the first time since becoming a super fan of the group, I am not ravaged with guilt for taking so long to realize their brilliance, for then I likely would have seen them prior to Sunday, and few things are better than the first time you get to see a truly amazing band deliver a truly amazing performance.
There was almost something euphoric about the connection the band and its audience on this evening. Even with the shoddy weather, there was overwhelming joy throughout the mid-level Lifestyle Pavillion, which was captured most effectively during “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2.” It’s a trite comparison that I assume has been used in several MMJ live reviews in the past, but one couldn’t help but recognize that as the crowd joined James in bellowing out “oh, this feeling is wonderful, don’t you ever turn it off,” they were all, at that moment, experiencing the same sense of overwhelming pleasure he was trying to express when he wrote the song.
- One Big Holiday
- Off The Record
- I’m Amazed
- Tonite I Want To Celebrate With You
- Where To Begin
- Lay Low
- The Way That He Sings
- Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
- Carried Away
- Smokin’ From Shootin’
- Run Thru (End)
- Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
18. Wordless Chorus
19. Evil Urges
20. Highly Suspicious*
21. Carnival Time (Al Johnson)*
23. Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)*
Final Score: 9.7/10 (As good as any show I’ve ever been to where this didn’t happen).
*Featuring Preservation Hall Jazz Band