When I saw Jim James on his solo tour over two years ago, my review was essentially “yeah, Jim James is great, but man, I just want to see My Morning Jacket.” On Sunday night, after wanting to see My Morning Jacket for over a decade, I finally got to see them at Merriweather Post Pavilion and holy shit, it was worth the wait.
Opening for MMJ was Jason Isbell, whose Americana rock reminds me of Ryan Adams, had he continued to embrace his country side. I was only aware of Isbell’s first album, Southeastern, and even less aware of his work in Drive-By Truckers, but his performance makes me want to seek out all of Isbell’s material. For an hour, Isbell gave an incredible opening 11-song set that varied from everything between his Truckers work to his album that came out this Friday, Something More Than Free.
Isbell’s performance was far more upbeat and exciting than expected. “Cover Me Up,” a pretty quiet song on album, was far more grandiose and phenomenal with timpani mallets blasting the drums and Isbell’s impressive guitar, to the point that the end of the song ended with one of several standing ovations. Beautiful songwriting and incredible stage presence, Isbell deserves to be a headliner at Merriweather soon.
Coming out to what sounded like silent film music, My Morning Jacket took to the stage, starting right up “Circuital,” which itself presents the highs of James’ guitar exploration and the lows, with the song’s beautiful and simple conclusion.
My Morning Jacket’s performance covered their entire career, with only a handful of new songs thrown in. A combination of Z’s bests got the first part of the set off to a great start. “It Beats 4 U” ended with a flurry of strobes, while naturally “Wordless Chorus” and “Off The Record” were drowned out by audience sing-a-longs.
My Morning Jacket is probably the closest I’ll ever come to loving a jam band. What makes the MMJ live experience so great is the experimentation that comes along with these well-loved songs. Almost every song goes off on tangents of badassness, whether it comes from the combined beauty of the many guitars or the high falsetto of James.
After “Mahgeeta” came a trio of new songs, “Like a River,” “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and The Waterfall’s best song “Spring (Among the Living),” the latter of which accompanied by matching, twitchy lights to match the crazy direction the song goes to.
The final section of MMJ’s set, which featured songs like “I’m Amazed,” “Steam Engine” and “Victory Dance,” dragged the songs out for much longer, sometimes over ten minutes long. It’s phenomenal from a technical viewpoint, but at times it could drag a bit, which felt like it would be occasionally felt throughout the audience, before they were once again woke back to life by an incredible solo or guitar riff.
MMJ came back with a vengeance with its encore though. “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is another fantastic track from the new album, especially live and “Compound Fracture” put James behind a synth, which feels like a great remnant from his solo album. But it was the encore’s final two songs that were the highlight of the show. The penultimate song “Gideon” already seemed like a great song to end on, but following it up with “One Big Holiday” makes the audience freak the fuck out with James grabbing his V-guitar, strumming out the repetitive intro, until the rest of the band comes in to create an insane abundance of beauty and audience screams. An excellent end to a mind blowing set.