all words: Ross Bonaime, all photos: Ryan Kelly
Like what seemed like about 90% of the sold out Tuesday audience at the 9:30 Club, I wanted to see Jim James not because of his recent solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God, but because of his previous work. As much as I love his work with My Morning Jacket and to a lesser extent Monsters of Folk, I had never seen James perform live, a shame since MMJ is near the top of my list of bands to see. Looking around at the crowd, it looked like not many people were familiar with RoLaSoG, but James’ natural stage presence and a loaded second half of his set seemed to turn things from fan dedication to fanaticism.
James came out in a brownish-purpley suit, with his guitar propped up in front of his mic. Much to my surprise, James didn’t spend much of the night behind his guitar, but rather going from side to side of the stage and playing his saxophone almost as much as his guitar. He started out the evening with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”, with an LED sun rising behind him as the song went on, with James reached out to the crowd, touching index fingers with anyone willing to reach back at him.
With only nine songs on his solo debut, it was pretty clear that he would be playing his entire album, but James and his band decided to perform the album in order. I guess if you spend so much time perfecting the order of an album, why break up the flow just for the live show? RoLaSoG is an okay album, but James made it much more palatable. Several times, James would leave the stage to let the band take the spotlight, such as in the middle of “Dear One,” he left to watch an incredible drum solo from the right side of the stage, before returning to finish the song.
One thing that is clear in his solo album, and in their live show, is that James’ solo work is quite different than his My Morning Jacket work. While MMJ often sound like they could be recording their albums in a long-abandoned barn, James’ solo songs are much more electronically inclined, a bit jazzier and on songs like “All Is Forgiven,” almost sound like early 2000s Radiohead.
After about an hour, James finished his first nine songs, his entire solo catalogue, and while the audience dug it, they clearly weren’t as well versed in this music as they were with his band work. James came back for what seemed like an encore, but was actually signaling the second half of his set, which would feature heavier into James’ other projects.
Considering that Monday night was Willie Nelson’s eightieth birthday, James started the second half with a wonderful acoustic version of Nelson’s “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away.” He then followed that with two acoustic MMJ covers for “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” & “Hopefully,” before his band returned for the Monsters of Folk portion of the set.
During this second half, James seemed much looser, probably more comfortable with the well-known material. While Monsters of Folk’s self-titled album, well, sounds like a folk album, James’ decided to take it in a much louder direction. The drums in “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” were ridiculous loud for anyone familiar with the song, and rarely went too quiet with the band’s other songs performed, “His Master’s Voice,” “The Right Place” before blowing out the place with “Losin Yo Head,” the songs that easily gained the greatest audience reaction of the night, and then ending the night with New Multitude’s equally great “Changing World.”
Even when James is playing music that the audience doesn’t quite know, he still made it work for everyone in the crowd, and by then succumbing to the work of his past, really had fun with his catalogue of work, much to the excitement of the audience. Now that I’ve seen what James can do solo, I can’t wait to see what he does with the rest of MMJ when he comes back to the area with the Americanarama tour with their tried and true material.
and now… for the obligatory Jim James HAIR PHOTO MONTAGE: