My Morning Jacket | Radio City Music Hall, New York 6/20/08
Poster by Guy Burwell
Dear Josh Homme,
Thanks for last night.
You’re probably asking yourself why I’m thanking Josh Homme, lead queen of the stone age, in a post about My Morning Jacket’s Radio City Music Hall show. That’s a perfectly reasonable question, but I think I’ve got a perfectly reasonable answer. The show on Friday night felt like a culmination of sorts, both for the band’s rise in popularity, but also for my own personal fandom. So I feel that I should start at the beginning to give a full perspective on Friday’s show, and the beginning starts with Josh Homme and the Queens of the Stone Age.
In the fall of 2002 I was just beginning college and getting into going to live shows (a late bloomer, I know). I had tickets to see Queens of the Stone at the Avalon Ballroom in Boston. They had two openers that night, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead and a three-piece outfit out of Philadelphia called the Burning Brides. Queens of the Stone Age rocked the house that night, and …Trail of the Dead may have been the bigger opener, but Burning Brides was the real find that night.
Led by the squelching, mop-topped Dmitri Coats, the Brides played loud raucous rock ‘n’ roll and put on a great show. That year they toured constantly, and I seemingly caught them every time they came through Boston. There was the time they opened for Division of Laura Lee (part of that whole Swedish garage rock movement, remember that?) at the tiny T.T. The Bear’s. Then they secured the opening slot on Audioslave’s first tour. With my first year winding down, I noticed the Brides were coming back, opening for some band at the small Middle East club in Cambridge. I tried to get some people to go with me, but with finals approaching nobody bit. The Brides plaid a strong show that night, I think.
I don’t honestly remember their set all that well, because when the headliners took the stage, five hairy and bearded southerners, and launched into “One Big Holiday,” everything else melted away. Suddenly there was this voice filling up that small room with joy. That was my first experience with My Morning Jacket, and it thankfully wouldn’t be my last.
I should perhaps pause and note that that previous paragraph might make it sound like MMJ is the new LSD or something. But for fans of live music, I think they kind of are. Seeing and hearing the band at the top of their game, when they are locked in and the crowd is going crazy, it’s like your transported to some amazing place aboard Jim’s soaring voice. And for two hours you don’t have to think about anything else.
They’ve grown since that first night I saw them at the Middle East, both in popularity and sound. Expanding and bending genres in ways I never would have predicted. My first year at Bonnaroo was Return to Thunderdome, and that was probably the first time I had an inkling of how big they could be. They ruled the stage that afternoon, and when the wind and the rain blew in during “Steam Engine” it was a true Moment. And perhaps that is what is so great about this band, they really do have a sense of grandeur, and it’s not posturing. They’re humble about it and they know a special occasion and always revel in it, this is why expectations for Radio City were so big.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Jim James, Two Tone Tommy, Patrick Hallahan, Carl Broemel and Bo Koster took the stage at 8:15 and proceeded to deliver exactly what was promised, an evening with My Morning Jacket. Before the gig I hadn’t considered what this meant. I’ve seen a few special My Morning Jacket shows in the past, and what I love about them is that they are always surprising. At Bonnaroo ’06 that meant incredible covers like “A Quick One While She’s Away,” at Bonnaroo last week there was their awesome take on “Tyrone.” I thought we were in-store for more of that, rare covers, special guests, a night of surprises. I was wrong.
Friday night was about a band stepping out onto the big stage and proving themselves worthy. It was five guys filling up that historic music hall with nearly three hours of their music, the music that had gotten them to that point. And it was about the fans, old and new, happy to be there, sharing the moment with the band and everyone around them.
They opened with “Evil Urges” and never looked back. It was a setlist heavy on Evil Urges and Z cuts, but that also dipped into their entire catalogue. There was “The Bear” off The Tennessee Fire. “Bermuda Highway,” “The Way That He Sings,” and my all-time favorite MMJ song “Phone Went West” from At Dawn. And a fair share of It Still Moves standouts like “Run Thru” and “Steam Engine.” Newer songs were some of the highlights though. “Smokin’ From Shootin’” and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2″ closed out the main set, both were stunning.
It’s hard to call their encore an encore, it was really a second set, and the entire thing was incredible. Jim started it off solo on the acoustic with “Bermuda Highway.” Every time I write about My Morning Jacket I always return to Jim’s voice. It has that unique ability to send you places far and wide, but it can also draw you in, somehow making any room, be it St. David’s Church or Radio City, feel intimate. And that is exactly what he did with “Bermuda Highway” and “Librarian,” one of my favorite tracks off Evil Urges. The lights crept up on the stage as the rest of the band slowly joined in. “Wordless Chorus” got everyone back on their feet, and I think everyone staid there. “Dondante” and “The Bear” were gorgeous, and then they brought the house down with “Lay Low”/”Run Thru”/”Anytime”/”One Big Holiday.”
My seat was at the back of the orchestra which meant the balconies were over my head. I had a great view of the stage, and the audience in the orchestra, but it was impossible to get a feel of the entire room. At some point during the set I decided I needed to check it out. When the opening notes of “Run Thru” rang out, I knew that was the time. I made my way down the aisle where more and more fans had filled in for extra room to move. The scene was amazing.
There were three balconies filled with singing and dancing fans, many nearly hanging of the rails in states of near euphoria. It may have been the biggest room MMJ had headlined to date, but Jim James made sure to interact with everyone as much as possible, running up and down the side stairs to give the first balcony a front row view.
By the time “One Big Holiday” wound down I was exhausted. It was a long night, and a long, long time since I had seen Jim tear into that riff for the first time. Fortunately, I don’t think this is a holiday that’s going to end anytime soon. And so for that, I thank Mr. Homme for bringing the Burning Brides along as openers, and for setting the wheels in motion.
Off The Record
What a Wonderful Man
Touch Me Part 1
Thank You Too
The Way That He Sings
Phone Went West
Smokin From Shootin->
Touch Me Part 2
It Beats 4 U
One Big Holiday
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