Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: No rain for My Morning Jacket return

The weather was in My Morning Jacket’s corner Saturday as the Louisville-based festival favorite returned to Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Uptown Amphitheatre. After its 2011 set at the same venue was cut short at 14 songs due to a rain delay followed by an 11 p.m. curfew, fans were treated to a 2- plus hour set that stretched to 24 songs.
Likeminded Carolinians Band of Horses (pictured below) opened the show playing a daylight set of Southern-stewed folk-rock. And even though the group now hails from the Southeast(originating in the Northwest), at times its songs brought on sun-soaked desert dreaminess. It introduced the new single “Knock Knock” early in its set. It’ll be interesting to see whether the upbeat pop-rock guitar-centered track is indicative of the direction of its upcoming (aptly titled) album “Mirage Rock” (out September 18). The Charlotte date was the Charleston-based band’s second to last night with MMJ.
It was apparent how well matched the two acts were especially when MMJ frontman Jim James joined BOH for “Slow Cruel Hands of Time” or later when BOH’s Ben Bridwell returned the favor joining MMJ for “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” The sound was a bit muddy for the openers, but it didn’t make a huge difference because their material is dripping in reverb anyway.
In explaining the attraction of My Morning Jacket, a friend of mine was told they’re a jam band for people that don’t like jam bands. That was true for most of its set. It began with the recent singles “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” and “Outta My System.” James wore a blue cape, which might actually be ornate enough to be described as a cloak, over a black shirt and vest with tan pants. The five members all had a different look about them. There’s the hirsute team of James, multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel (ripping through a sax solo below), and drummer Patrick Hallahan. Bassist Tom Blankenship (the snappiest dresser of the bunch) and keyboardist Bo Koster (both in vests) repped the band’s leaner, shorter-haired contingent.
Having seen MMJ at Bonnaroo three times from 500 or more feet away I was pleased to actually see not only what they look like, but their on stage interplay. The biggest treat was watching Hallahan, who like Band of Horses’ bouncing drummer Creighton Barrett, is often the most animated member on stage (although James’ is definitely MMJ’s focal point). When he stretched his long arms (made even longer by his drumsticks) above his head and broke out what I can only describe as cheerleader-esque moves during the extended bridge of “Run Thru,” he completely stole the show.
James also impressed shredding on a Flying V like a stoner version of Eddie Van Halen (top photo), commandingly pacing back and forth at the front of the stage, and creating bleeps and bloops with the sampler he sometimes wore around his neck.
Part of the magic of My Morning Jacket is the band’s ability to weave interesting arrangements. Little things that aren’t necessarily the crux of a song pop out at you. It’s often Koster’s contribution - the synthesized bass sounds of “First Light” for instance buzz like a tiny bug circling your ear; the subtle piano beneath the primary arrangement of “You Wanna Freak Out.”
While rooted in psychedelic rock, its ability to delve into other genres is another attraction. The R&B feel of “The Day Is Coming,” the fuzzy, trippy synthesized bass of 2005’s “Wordless Chorus” pumping like a merry-go-round at a carnival, and the futuristic sampler work of “Touch ME I’m Going to Scream” (which was like Blondie’s “Atomic” meets Fleetwood Mac live) played back-to-back-to-back was the funkiest segment. Watching stocky, beer guzzling men try to match James’ soaring falsetto was quite amusing.
The quintet jumped back into blatantly Southern blues and boogie closing the first part of its set around 10 p.m. with “Dancefloors” and “Run Thru.”
It returned to the strains of “Victory Dance” with James marching across the stage in his blue cape. Its rendition of “Lay Low,” which featured rollicking twin guitar harmonies, reminded me of a Doobie Bros’ 45 played at 33 RPM. The aforementioned jam was mostly relegated to “Steam Engine.” MMJ masterfully built and expanded the jam to a big, climactic end just before Band of Horses returned for “It’s a Pity.” The combination further demonstrated how well these groups fit together (there were actually quieter times in MMJ’s set that reminded me of BOH). 
The show ended - without even a sprinkle - with “One Big Holiday.” The weather couldn’t have been kinder.