Jim James, Carl Broemel, Patrick Hallahan, Bo Koster and Tom Blankenship of My Morning Jacket (Danny Clinch)
Angelenos had a couple of reasons in common to be happy about as they made their way into the Shrine Auditorium last night: The heatwave that held them hostage in air-conditioned confines for days had finally loosened its grip on the city, and they were about to experience one of the best live acts in music today, My Morning Jacket, who were in town supporting their seventh album, The Waterfall, which released in May. It was fitting, then, that the Kentucky fivesome opened with “Victory Dance,” the opening track from their last effort before The Waterfall, 2011’s Circuital.
As the song came to a close, bright orange rays of light gave way to jarring strobes heralding the staccato intro to “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall).” Vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter Jim James immediately transitioned into “Believe (Nobody Knows),” also from The Waterfall, as pulses started to quicken in time to drummer Patrick Hallahan and bassist Tom Blankenship’s rhythm. The crowd began throwing hands into the air and jumping to the beat, but this was nothing compared to the eruption that occurred once James and guitarist Carl Broemel let loose the instantly recognizable riff from “Off the Record.”
The track is one of the group’s most popular, as it puts all of the traits that are so identifiably My Morning Jacket on display. It combines several genres (rock, ska, jazz and psychedelic, just to name a few) all in one song. “Off the Record” is also one of the tunes that the band can take from its original recorded length of five-minutes to seven or eight minutes when they play it live.
As Bo Koster pounded his keyboards, James, Broemel and Blankenship congregated in front of Hallahan’s kit, and the true beauty of MMJ’s shows, and one of the main reasons they are often referred to as a jam band, was evident: their ability to take an already fantastic song to another level on stage. “Off the Record” was part of MMJ’s fourth album, Z, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month. Throughout the night, the band treated their fans to a few other tracks from Z: “It Beats For You,” “Lay Low” and “Gideon.”
James – who wore sunglasses and a long dark robe throughout the evening – addressed the crowd only once, to express his happiness at being able to share the stage with their friends Dr. Dog and Fruit Bats (the concert’s opening acts), as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, who appeared next to him in matching brown suits. Lucius provided backup vocals to the beautiful “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” while Broemel worked his magic on the pedal steel, which is always a highlight of any MMJ show.
The Lucius ladies stuck around to lend their voices to “Like A River,” a song that Koster has said perfectly encapsulates Stinson Beach, the area in Northern California where most of The Waterfall was made and the place where they found the actual waterfall that graces the album’s cover. The track definitely conjured the nature and mysticism associated with Stinson Beach, as did MMJ’s performances of other songs from the new album, “Spring (Among the Living)” and “Tropics (Erase Traces),” as well as “Only Memories Remain” and “Compound Fracture,” which both showcased the stunning heights of James’ falsetto.
The band included “A New Life” and “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” from James’ 2013 solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, in the set, and both had the audience singing along. The crowd enthusiastically clapped in unison to the familiar opening beats of “Circuital,” but the songs to evoke the loudest reactions from those in attendance came during MMJ’s encore.
No tribute to Z’s 10 years would be complete without a performance of “Wordless Chorus,” which also happens to be my favorite MMJ song. Lucius returned to join in on the literally wordless chorus, and when James called for “Lights out,” every light in the Shrine went dark. All attention was focused on his voice as he belted out, “We are the innovators. They are the imitators.”
Mini dance parties broke out throughout the theater as James pressed out the electronic beats signaling the start of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2,” off 2008’s Evil Urges. The concert ended, of course, with My Morning Jacket’s signature song, “One Big Holiday,” reaching the furthest they would reach back into their 16-year catalog for the night, to 2003’s It Still Moves.
The entire evening was a holiday of sorts, a pleasant respite from the heat where sweat wasn’t from the sweltering weather but rather from dancing to some great music from one of my favorite bands.