My Morning Jacket
When you go to a headline concert towards the closure of a festival tour, the gap between finding a band that is looking forward to giving you a special treat or just desiring to pack and fly back home is tiny.
Being one of those who suffered for the cancellation of My Morning Jacket Z tour dates, few years ago, I am very happy to finally see them live.
Jim James is in a generous mood, probably to apologize with Londoners, he brings “his” My Morning Jacket on stage and keeps them working hard for the next 2 hours, gratifying the audience with a mammoth set of 23 songs, 8 of it during the endless encore.
It was a treat so, at the end, why was I emotionally left in a limbo?
Agreed, My Morning Jacket live are impressive. The intensity of their sound mixing Flaming Lips inspired new-psychedelia and alt-country guitar reverb has become quickly so classic that their music today is pioneering and moulding “the shape of bearded American music to come”.
They are one of the very few bands that in recent times recorded a double live album, Okonokos, which is not a marketing product but is actually as good as their best studio releases.
One of my curious considerations, while live music success is peaking, live albums are a disappearing product.
Once a great way to give newcomers a greatest hits, to discover a band in an energetic environment compared to an arbitrary collection of singles, and to fans a listen to the live thing. Today live albums are no more than one of the trick used by the record industry.
The few live album published recently are often used to release something when a band has a hot market but have neither new songs nor a decent number of B-sides.
Latest examples have been the mediocre Gossip “Live in Liverpool” and Babyshambles “Oh, what a lovely tour”. The first, Beth Ditto and Co., need to come out with outstanding new material very quickly they won’t keep the grasp on their big fanbase covering George Michael…the second what to say, releasing their arena tour probably aimed to cash among the many Doherty aficionados present. For a band famous for surprise shows in friends’ flats, that wasn’t a lovely tour at all.
Z and Okonokos came out within a year, both on the same label. This count out one speculation: quite often bands re-record live versions of their best tracks as a trick to move the rights of the songs to a new label. Not My Morning Jacket.
Okonokos contains 8 live versions of the 10 Z songs. Their intent is clearly not marketing a live of the greatest hits, but the pure desire to release to the fans 2 hours of great music.
Okonokos, is a genuine move. It has the confidence of a band that desired to record one of their best moment supported by a label, ATO, that makes a band proud to be independent.
So what made this London show different from that live album?
I can’t see beyond the most obvious answer: the new songs.
Reading through the 23 titles played at the forum it is plenty of tracks from their latest album, Evil Urges.
I don’t like Evil Urges. Rolling Stone sees it as their “creative leap that Wilco took on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Radiohead took on Kid A”.
I could agree that probably in their intentions that was their aim. The product unfortunately is not as efficacious as their counterparts.
Evil Urges sounds an attempt to try too many different paths simultaneously producing a dispersive bunch of songs without homogeneity. It is easy to get disoriented first and lost soon after. The nice tunes are interrupted by weird explorations into electronica, drum machines and funk-falsettos.
I am not sure if including some irritating tunes on the new album, the intent was to follow the path of psychedelic fellows, The Flaming Lips.
Point is that Wayne Coyne, the Lips’ singer, has a humour and a theatrical presence that Jim James cannot match. While the first can use such an irritating chorus as The Yeah Yeah Yeah song to make fun of George Bush using thousands of people, the only one Jim James ridicules singing Highly Suspicious is himself and his bandmates.
Strong of their live reputation, checked the absence of that song on previous setlists, and read an interview where the band said to be already projected on the next album, I was expecting (or just hoping) the new songs to sound better live. Hopefully less electronic tricks and more rock-solid guitar music.
Not really. As the crow flies, Evil Urges falsetto opens the set, to be followed straight away by Off the Record and Gideon, two of the best moment from Z. Blame the selection, the difference is mercilessly in front of the crowd.
During the set my hope works intermittently. Sec Walking, which on the album belong to the weird parts and resemble an Elton John forgotten tune, shines live.
I’m Amazed, probably my favourite Evil Urges song, left the crowd indeed amazed.
Anytime Jim James mistreats his guitar running along the stage to lead the band in sonic journeys travelling through American history the night finds some brilliant moments and My Morning Jacket music is a live delight.
When this journey arrives in Minneapolis to chase funk-ish beats it is clear that Prince glamour cannot exist without visiting a barber shop before the gig.
The encore was being an absolute pleasure enchanting the crowd with their best music including Wordless Chorus, probably their finest song.
On a symmetrical move to the start, that gem let a self-destructive instinct entering Jim James’ mind. I can’t find another reason to give space to the infamous Highly Suspicious, (confirmed, even live it is the most irritating tune of the millennium), after that.
All their odd electronica experimentation mixes with “false(tto)”; too much even for the most open minded fan.
Part of the audience was disoriented, the band had to work hard for four of their best songs including Dondante, Anytime and an anthemic version of One Big Holiday to close and assure everyone left the Forum happy.
I did. in the end I was quite pleased with the whole experience, impressed by the rumbling power of the drummer and Jim James guitar solos. Nevertheless after this night I doubly regret that cancelled gig at the Astoria.
If you are new to My Morning Jacket listen them on their [myspace] [website].
Be aware that myspace at the moment streams only the new material so, if the first two songs disappoint you, consider they are the less representative of their catalogue. You still have very good chances to like this amazing band.
PS-I am quite happy to share with you that My Morning Jacket asked me to use these photos for their official site, so you can now see them also on mymorningjacket.com.
Photographing My Morning Jacket isn’t easy.
Jim James stands on the far right, the rest of the band spread on the stage making almost impossible to take group shots.
All of a sudden, during instrumental parts, Jim James is all the same with his guitar and runs everywhere, challenging me to follow him on a bizarre racetrack.
Catching a running frontman is even more difficult than catching someone jumping.
Best thing to do is to study his movement on the stage (usually it is a repeated pattern) and wait in the right spot the next time. You should primarily check backlights or blind spots, bad luck wants the best action is always happening in the darkest and remotest area of the stage.
If the artist looks at the drummer turning his back at the audience, there is not a lot you can do. The only meaningful photo of such a subject would have been Miles Davis, disappointingly he’s dead.
When James runs towards the crowd you have more chances to get him in a nice pose. Mount a wideangle, which is the easiest way to frame, and set your camera in advance since you will have no time to do anything but shooting in the moment he stops.