The band played Charlottesville Pavilion, my hometown venue. It’s a great outdoor pavilion tacked onto the end of Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall and an awesome place to see show. The crowd was a bit sparse as the show got started. Perhaps it was the Thursday night bill or the band’s attempt at being super punctual so as to play the maximum amount of music; they actually came on a bit late. But after over two and a half hours of music, the place had filled out nicely and both the crowd and band seemed to love every minute of it.
With several weeks (months?) of anticipation for this show, I may have over-hyped it and set my expectations a bit high. Although the show was not necessarily a game-changing, bar-raising experience, it was definitely a fantastic concert and one that left me buzzing for days.
To put it simply, I My Morning Jacket puts on a hell of a rock ‘n’ roll concert. They’ve captured some of the best aspects of the classics, like Led Zeppelin and the Who, but they’ve updated them for the millennial set with their own brand of rock.
So I thought I’d try something new with this review and offer up a quick hit-list of show highlights.
“Evil Urges” opener. This song is killer. That phasing keyboard lick is stellar and the chorus (part leading to “I’m ready for it now”) somehow hits the most perfect feeling of dread and feel-good I think I have ever heard. And, of course, the Zeppelin-like riff-rock breakdown towards the end is like an exorcism of Page, JP Jones, and Bonham, that brings the listener as close as you can get to the “Song Remains the Same” without these three players involved.
The lower energy acoustic section of the show is well-placed and a great way to highlight Carl Broemel’s pedal steel playing. The section may be a bit long, but I guess they keep writing great tunes to fit into this spot in the show. But as great as the new slow tunes are (“Sec Walkin'” and “Librarian”), they simply can’t match the beauty and perfection of “Golden, ” which never gets old.
Speaking of which, “Gideon” NEVER gets old, either. I could listen to this song everyday, but it is just that much better in the live setting.
Jim James is much more of a ham and a showboat than I expected. I have seen him rock out onstage with the standards: long hair head-banging, jumping, slamming, flailing about, etc. But on this tour, he’s really stepped up his stage persona and pushed into the realm of theatrical, with props and subtle custom changes. The man actually wears a cape for a few key songs of their set. About the concept of a man wearing a cape, a friend of a friend had this to say. “A guy who wears a cape is either a complete badass or a total whackjob.” Yep.
I think “Anytime” is my latest favorite tune.
I think I finally get the slow rock of songs like “Master Plan,” “Dondante” and “I Think I”m Going to Hell.” These songs, though slower in tempo, rock just as hard as the uptempo rockers, with maybe even more intensity.
And if MMJ has a “jam vehicle” then “Dondante” is it. They really stretched out this version nicely, with some interesting changes in tempo, new riffs, and Carl Broemel trading his ax for his sax. Really good stuff and exactly the kind of song-stretching improv that I want more of from this band.
The show-ending segment of “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Part II,” “Mahgeetah,” and “One Big Holiday” is one of the best ways to end a rock concert. Period.
Obviously, the show left me impressed and pleased. Overall, I’d say my only complaint with MMJ is that this was really the same show as Radio City Music Hall in June. They have mostly been playing the same set of tunes throughout this tour. I am not at all suggesting they should become some kind of jamband, but it would be nice to see them stretch out tunes a bit more, as they do it really well. They might also employ a taste of those surprise setlist shenanigans from their infamous Bonnaroo sets. Just a taste.
But this concert (and perhaps this tour) was not about stretching, jamming, setlist surprises, or playing fun covers. It was a way to feature their latest album, Evil Urges, and to showcase the best of the band’s songbook. For MMJ, the concert setting is all about accentuating their unique songwriting talents and creating an intense stage performance that is less about surprises and spontaneity and more about raw energy and power.
1. Evil Urges
2. Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.1
3. Off The Record
4. Aluminum Park
5. The Way That He Sings
6. Thank You Too!
7. I’m Amazed
8. Evelyn Is Not Real
10. Sec Walkin
12. Phone Went West
14. I Think I’m Going To Hell
16. Lay Low
19. Run Thru
20. Wordless Chorus
21. Highly Suspicious
22. Smokin From Shootin
23. Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.2
25. One Big Holiday