Z was the album that introduced me to the collective, mercurial talents of My Morning Jacket. I loved the off-beat, unpredictability of their Americana on this record along with Jim James’ incredibly versatile vocals that swirl around you, plaintive one moment and effervescent the next. The highly anticipated Evil Urges arrived in 2008 and the bands’ natural evolution had taken them down a road that was personally not as satisfying as Z. The strikingly creative flourishes were still there but for some reason, the record did not click on an emotional level. Circuital resonated with me on a totally different level to Evil Urges and so it goes. On a personal level My Morning Jacket are an incredibly idiosyncratic group, strikingly original, difficult to pigeonhole and at times a bit of a challenge. Seeing them in the live context however completely changed my opinion of this band from Louisville, Kentucky.
Heartless Bastards are providing support on this leg of the tour and deliver a generous opening slot that gets better and better as they settle into their satisfying brand of rhythmic garage rock, distinguished by Erika Wennerstrom’s particularly robust vocals. Highlights come when the set’s later songs begin to morph into undulating jams that swell and surge around captivating melodies that never become too indulgent.
Although the lack of pretension during the Heartless Bastards set is pleasing, there is definitely a sense that My Morning Jacket intend to be a substantially more flamboyant as they gradually emerge through the dry ice on to the dark stage of The Ritz in Manchester tonight. What follows over the next two hours is a quite remarkable set that manages to redefine my perspective on this audacious band.
Victory Dance gets proceedings underway in dramatic fashion. Jim James, illuminated in a menacing green spotlight prowls the stage during this slow-burning number, reaching out to a captivated crowd. The more rhythmic, disco-infused Compound Fracture is next, demonstrating a seemingly effortless ability to mutate from one genre to another but it is In its Infancy (The Waterfall) that conjures up the lasting impression tonight that My Morning Jacket may have been listening to an awful amount of English Prog Rock recently. With the iconic Flying V guitar in place and swelling harmonies ebbing and flowing with almost mystical qualities amongst the throbbing keys, the progressive rock influences prove difficult to shake.
Circuital is masterful, demonstrating the incredible musicianship that exists within the band and it marks the first high point of the evening. Believe follows, possessing arena-sized pretensions with its ability to energise the audience with its sweeping synths and a grandiose chorus that prompts the partisan crowd to eagerly join in before the emphasis shifts once more for the primal tones of Spring (Among the Living). For sheer entertainment value, it doesn’t get much better and the evening is full of these moments, topped of by an immense rendition of Dondante and Lay Low which guitarist Carl Broemel completes with an epic saxophone solo full of raging intensity.
The encore is certainly not tacked on thoughtlessly and the five tracks that it consists of come from four different albums and continue to demonstrate the band’s innate ability to weave multiple influences into their own material. As a frontman, Jim James is magnetic. Seemingly in a constant state of slow-motion, he glides across the stage, refusing to engage in the banal banter that can often accompany live performances and as the band finally drift away into the shadows after incredibly satisfying performances of Off the Record and One Big Holiday the keyboard player approaches the crowd and mouths ‘thank you’. Sometimes no words are needed!
My Morning Jacket
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto