My Morning Jacket

I shot My Morning Jacket few years ago at the Forum in London. It was during those 35mm on B&W film times when I was still believing someone cared of the photography support and would appreciate people working on film. Not.

Evil Urges was out and My Morning Jacket were touring it.
It had been the most disappointing album of that year, probably of the past decade. Having missed their Astoria gig during Z tour, this was my first time with their live show.

Z was a masterpiece. This is also the band that, probably unique during record industry worst crisis ever, convinced a label to issue a double live album: Okonokos, which chronicles the Z tour.

That Forum gig was spectacular. My Morning Jacket showed that live they are a different entity compared to what you hear from the record. An incredible bunch of musicians, energy from any pore, long jams and wonderful tunes. Still those Evil Urges falsettos sounded odd.

There has been a long break since. Jim James went sideways with the (pretty disappointing considering the expectations) all-star project: Monsters of Folk. An album and few gigs in the company of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and other alt.folk legends.

More months of waiting than Circuital, their sixth album, was out.
I had a strange reaction to this record.
I falled in love with it, not at a first listen but quite quickly it went under my skin. I don’t recollect when and I don’t know why this happened.
In a matter of days from being a new album, Circuital became one of my classics.

I love it from start to finish and surely it’ll end up in my albums of the year list. It sold well but I don’t have the feeling the overall perception is similar to my excitement.

The strange thing is that I don’t really know why I ended up loving this so much. I must be unconsciously sympathetic with those songs.

Musically Circuital is not a step to pre- Evil Urges era, as many reviews claimed. It is a step ahead.

My Morning Jacket haven’t avoided the “experimentation”, they just avoided the wrong bit of it. They removed their sound from any funky Prince-esque approach which, in the last 20 years hasn’t been of help to anyone including Prince himself.

They wrote songs paying attention to song’s architecture. Pop songs of crystalline melodies, balanced harmonies, nice sound. That is what Circuital is.

If I have to define it I would put it close close to the latest Band of Horses record, their most commercial album, Infinite Arms. Circuital is not far from that approach. Nice easy-listening songs with an edge.

The other album I compared it to, is the latest Iron and Wine, Kiss Each Other Clear.
With a difference. I find Iron and Wine album very sugary. To the point that some of those songs would work well as a Take That single.
I said it, I argued with friends about this, but every time I listen to Me and Lazarus I am convinced of what I am saying.

Circuital seems to have managed to square the circle.
My Morning Jacket found the balance between writing pop songs (in the most positive meaning you can think of pop) that sounds real, believable. Songs that are not built to chart or to be aired but that come from the heart. Still, they will sound great listened to on the radio.

Music criticism often struggles to find a way to describe why a song is great. It can be simpler then you think.
Songs that contains ideas, melodies, bridges, music. Songs that have nice lyrics which go with the music and don’t look out of place. Equilibrium.

This is not an avant-garde record, it will not be on The Wire albums of 2011, it is not there to be cited on your tweets to make them cool.
Despite My Morning Jacket are too often defined as “experimental”, they are not. Using a vintage effect on the microphone doesn’t set you into the avant-garde scene.

They are a rock band of our times. They know the past, love Neil Young, have ideas, and they are brave and skilled to put them in the music the play. Sometime it doesn’t work, Evil Urges falsettos are an example, most times it does as Z and Circuital show.

I can’t really name a weak song on Circuital. I am in love with all of them. I believe that Wonderful (The Way I feel) would be an all times classic if it was recorded in the pre-internet era, but from this ballad to the rockier tunes any of them has its reason to exist.

Somerset House series is a set of concerts happening in London every July. I am personally attached to it being the place where I saw PJ Harvey for the first time. I will not forget a Bat For Lashes gig there too, shot and attended under a thunderstorm.

I am back aftera couple of years for My Morning Jacket. It’s another rainy July day in London but thankfully the sky is clear when the gig starts.

The large, neoclassic building of the house frames a squared, large courtyard which is where summer concerts happen. With coloured lights highlighting the architecture it is a pretty epic place for concerts. Jim James, My Morning Jacket singer, realizes it defining what it sees “truly epic”. Epic as the fame of My Morning Jacket live shows. They match the place.

Being in love with Circuital, I’d be very happy to listen to all of it without complaint, and the concert starts that direction.
Typical these days, the first two songs of the show are also the album openers. Victory Dance and the title track shine through. The security reminds me that my photographer’s duty are over at the end of Gideon, the third song taken from Z. Enough to remind me of how great this band is and how much I would love to keep photographing.

While all photographers heads back to the press area to check the results in the DSLR monitors, I go in the middle of the crowd to watch the show and see if there are more pics to take. I wouldn’t be a music photographer if I didn’t like live music so much. From the day I started photographying concert, about ten years ago, I have never been to a concert without staying for the rest of the gig. I think it is disrespectful for the band that invites me to take pictures, but most of all I photograph the music I love so that I love to stay to listen to it.

I know, agencies, newspapers want the photos sent as soon as the gig is over. Modern technology makes this possible. I don’t mind. I need to experience the show and the way the show goes. It also helps me to choose the pictures I think better represent it. I can’t give you a picture of a smiling singer if he just played a melancholic set. I am naïve, out of the system. Surely I am using photography as a medium to tell stories not to make stories up.

Outta My System, ironically enough, is one of the missing songs from Circuital tonight. The other is my favourite, Wonderful (the way I feel). Despite I can understand a ballad wasn’t propably fitting in this setlist, I am slightly disappointed to leave Somerset House not listening to the best two songs of the album.

As a counterpart there is the rest. Beauties from the past, a storming version of  Holdin’ on to Black Metal in the encore and the unmissable One Big Holiday as closure.

Exactly the one big holiday I’d need right now after this quite amazing year of live music.

I will be back sooner that you think, with more tasty concerts for you in September, so stay tuned and ready that an impressive set of acts from the Alexandra Palace I’ll be your Mirror ATP and Field Day festival will keep you company till the autumn. Plus all the rest that will happen in the meanwhile. You won’t get rid of me.

My Morning Jacket neither. They have already planned a November UK tour and will be touring the album worldwide, so keep in touch with them on the web:
[website] [myspace] [facebook] [twitter] are all up and running.

Photo tip

It doesn’t happen often that, covering a concert, the location is not a dark venue with a dark stage lit by coloured lights.

So when this is the case, when a concert is in an amazing place, it’s worth working some extra minutes to include some shots of the place.

Somerset House is the perfect occasion. Photography wise the extremely high stage doesn’t make it possible to take any image of the surrounding from the pit.

This is why, after the three songs, I walked into the courtyard and took some shots of the stage, the crowd including the courtyard and the “House”. From the pit images you wouldn’t differentiate this concert from a normal venue show and, as you can see, reality was quite a different thing. This is what I mean by telling a story using photography as a medium.

A perfect, unvolountary timing also set this moment in the “blue hour”, a big plus.
There is not a better moment to take night photos that in the blue hour.
The sky is still blue, the remaining light after the sunset (or before the sunrise) helps to show details in the shadows but the overall sensation of night, warm lights and darkness stays. It doesn’t last long. From too-clear to too-dark is not more than fifteen minutes. Anticipation is important. Be ready.

I had two main issues in this situation.
One was to get a nice, central spot where I could raise my camera + telephoto over most of people’s heads (there is always a basketball champion in front of me at gigs!) to take some symmetric shots before the sky turned black. To work with a tripod in the middle of a crowd is impossible. To frame the symmetric image that architecture photography rules require isn’t easy. I suggest to move around to try few different locations then choose the best angle at home. I know it is easier zooming in and out, which is also an option, but not being lazy and move to get to the right spot, in photography, is always more rewarding than standing still and using your zoom extension.


The other problem in this situation is to get the right exposure. Despite the light of the blue sky, the stage was still much brighter than the rest. Thankfully digital cameras have a much better exposure latitude than film slides so it is possible to shoot in these conditions.

What I suggest is to spot measure the brighter part, the stage in this case, and check if the blue of the sky is still blue or becomes black. Since the lights of the stage change continuously it is key to wait the right moment which is when the lights are low so is the contrast. Important suggestion, don’t wait for the best music. At concerts there is absolutely no correlation between the best song and the best moment to take pictures.

An eye on colour temperature is of more help. The sky is blue so a warm colour scheme, yellow/orange/red works better than a cold one to focus the viewer look at the centre. Be patient and be ready.

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~ by Valerio on August 18, 2011.

One Response to “My Morning Jacket”

  1. These are fantastic! Love My Morning Jacket! You captured them well!

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