mmj bearEver since the release of Z in 2005, to varying degrees of enthusiasm, My Morning Jacket has been my favorite band. For those of us who grew up listening to the classic rockers of the 60s and 70s, it was always a topic of conversation with peers and those of our parent’s generation wondering out loud if we’d ever get to see a band soaring to the levels of majesty and raw, pure rock-and-roll power that these pillars of the quintessential era for the genre achieved on the live stage (usually after watching something like How The West Was Won or Live at Pompeii).

On these two nights being featured in today’s video releases on the Bonnaroo 365 channel, MMJ reached exponential peaks that felt comparable to what a Zeppelin show in the early-70s must’ve felt like. Since there aren’t very polished soundboard or video recordings from these shows (with the exception of the two you can see below), the subjective raves from those who were there and fuzzy-yet-serviceable audience recordings are the only current way to commemorate these nights.

Without question, the high points of my love affair with MMJ’s music and live abilities occurred after midnight on that magical plot of land in the rolling hills of Manchester, TN on these nights (Although, I must note that this fall’s three-night, no-repeats run in LA re-stoked my enthusiasm to a very high level). These marathon performances set a bar for live excellence that I have yet to (and may never) see topped (although Nine Inch Nails on the farm in 2009 was damn close). Walking away from both of these there was that feeling of after shock (and glow) that is rare-found, fleeting and left most of my crew happily acknowledging that it may never get better (in a live music sense) than that. I wasn’t alone in these raves and I’ve heard glowing acknowledgements from even casual fans that these shows list high on people’s personal lists.

mmj 06

’06 was more of a statement show – by putting on a 100% professional and locked-in show in front of such a large crowd it was abundantly and instantly clear that MMJ was going to lead a new generation as a live force – it was then only a matter of time before they’d be playing the main stage as headliners (which they did in 2011 as dualing headliners with Arcade Fire). This set notably occurred as a modern wave of bands began popping up, inspired by the Kentucky band’s sound, like Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Futurebirds, and many more who emerged in the years after Z’s release. Playing this slot was a giant step up (from the already remarkable and buzzed-about midday sets MMJ had played in past years) for MMJ – to be rocking a four-hour slot against Roo staples like Umphrey’s McGee and The Disco Biscuits helped showcase them in a different light. To say they held their own, as newcomers to the late night scene, would be a massive understatement. With enhanced visuals provided by a lighting director who used to work with Pink Floyd, this was an audio-visual feast escaping apt description. Still touring on their darkest and most psychedelic record Z, this show encapsulated the visceral power of that record perfectly, perhaps best exhibited by their highly improvisational and jazzy rendering of “Dondante” – a version of the live staple that was unrecognizable for the first few minutes. Everything after this show during the weekend was pure bonus material – we’d already gotten our money’s worth on the trip.

Jim James @ Bonnaroo '08 || Pre-Smart Cell Phone Photo by Wesley Hodges
Jim James @ Bonnaroo ’08 || Pre-Smart Cell Phone Photo by Wesley Hodges
The ’08 show had all the intangibles – a weird, exciting and eclectic new album being showcased for the first time to most in attendance, the power of Mother Nature acting as another member of the band, a band at its professional zenith, guest spots by a horn section, Kirk Hammett and Zack Galifinakis and four hours of deep tracks, Evil Urges debuts and first-time covers of Bobby Womack, Funkadelic, Velvet Underground, Erykah Badu (*not a debut – but a rare “Tyrone” at the time), and Motley Crue. This one could’ve ended at set break and it would’ve ranked very, very high but the band managed to keep their electronics dry, press on and take the true fans (who stuck it out the whole way) on the ride of their lives until almost 4 am.

Today, Bonnaroo 365 released brief glimpses from the ’06 and ’08 shows – one of “The Bear” with Andrew Bird from 2006 and the fiery first set closing “One Big Holiday” with the jaw-dropping and unexpected special guest Kirk Hammett of Metallica. Metallica had just headlined the main stage in front of 60,000 or so fans and Hammett made it over to jam with MMJ after a two-hour first set in a TORRENTIAL downpour. Check out the footage below. Here’s hoping that both the ’06 and ’08 shows get full archival releases at some point whether through Bonnaroo, MMJ or both, the world needs to hear these tapes.

THE BEAR (w/ Andrew Bird – 2006)

My Morning Jacket and Andrew Bird - "The Bear" | Bonnaroo 2006 | Bonnaroo365

ONE BIG HOLIDAY (w/ Kirk Hammett – 2008)

Review following the 2008 show

At last the journey through rain and song had ended and the buzz from the show still hasn’t worn off . It is always special to watch a band at the peak of the career and right now it seems MMJ has reached the rarefied territory of operating in a space where there are no boundaries to what they can achieve musically. Their ears are as big as the enormous venues they are beginning to regularly fill with a newfound affecttion and respect for R & B, Funk, and Soul that didn’t show itself in previous LPs. Their appeal is genre-defying and seemingly universal reaching metal-loving freaks, jam band hippies, and the oftentimes fickle indie rock blogosphere. With a New Years Eve performance at Madison Square Garden and an exponentially growing fan base, the sky is the limit for this band…