Wednesday, 28 January 2009

My Morning Jacket gig [27th January 2009 @ Billboard]

It's been a long time between drinks. My last gig was Crowded House all the way back in November 2007.

My Morning Jacket are a 5-piece indie-country-rock band from Kentucky. They formed in 1998 and have released 5 studio albums in that time. Their first two albums The tennessee fire and At dawn were humble lo-fi efforts that made up for their lack of production polish with amazing songwriting and passionate performances. They increased in popularity a little bit with It still moves, where they accentuated the stadium rock side of their sound more. Their breakthrough album Z was a bit of a change, where their sound mellowed out a bit and the production all became a little more professional (but they weren't afraid to rock out at times). Finally, their most recent album Evil urges saw them expanding the sonic palette introduced on Z.

Billboard is a small venue in Russell Street in the Melbourne CBD, and this gig was the first time I had been there. Thankfully, it had air conditioning which was very much appreciated by the attendees, being quite a hot summer evening in Melbourne. The suspense built up as the fans were kept waiting (to the strains of what I think was Miles Davis) until about 9:45pm, when they finally took to the stage.

They opened with the first two songs from their latest album -- the falsetto-laden title track (Evil urges) and progressive-sounding Touch me I'm going to scream Pt. 1. They mixed it up a little bit with the earlier At dawn classic The way that he sings, almost a signature-song for them, and one of my favourite MMJ songs to date. Another early gig highlight was Off the record, one of their more recent "poppier" songs which has an incredibly catchy riff repeated throughout.

They played a decent cross-section of their discography, but generally focused on their two most recent albums Z and Evil urges. While they only included a couple of songs from my favourite album At dawn (the aforementioned The way that he sings, and the beautiful acoustic Bermuda highway which was part of the excellent encore), they included quite a few songs from their 2003 album It still moves. And with very few exceptions, it was the songs from that album which were the absolute gig highlights.

Mahgeetah was already a great opener on the album, but in a live setting it was even more impressive. I always loved Dancefloors on the album as an enjoyable pop song with rocky overtones, but at the gig it absolutely rocked the audience's socks off. The outro of this song had the most amazing display of dual guitar, bass, drums and keyboard interplay that I have ever seen at a live gig. The drunken lament of Golden slowed things down, emphasizing lead singer Jim James' amazing falsetto, and Run thru turned into another amazing adrenaline-fuelled jam session. The songs which they played from It still moves were designed to be played live, and after hearing them at this gig I have a lot more respect for that amazing album.

Jim James didn't talk to the audience a lot during the gig, but when he did it was mainly about the surreal architecture of Melbourne (I think they had visited Federation Square), and how he had witnessed vandals "spray painting a cathedral". He proved to have an interesting stage persona, donning a cape over his head for many of the songs, and turned his back on the audience to face the drummer during the many jam sessions which the songs turned into. And jam they did -- the Z closer Dondante runs for about 8 minutes on the studio version, but they turned it into a 15-minute epic when played live. Did I mention the epic Lynyrd Skynyrd southern riffage of Lay low? I think I just did.

Sonically, this was quite easily the loudest gig I had ever been to. It must have been the combination of small venue + huge speakers + instruments turned up to 11, but my ears were ringing many times during the gig despite the fact that I was wearing protective ear plugs.

Any notable omissions? It would have been nice to hear Xmas curtain, Lowdown, The bear or some of their other early-career highlights. But there was really little to complain about -- they played for 150 minutes and only rarely did they lose momentum during this time; when they did, it was usually during the Evil urges material which didn't seem to go down as well as the older songs.

One big holiday (with its Marquee moon-esque riffage) proved to be a perfect closer to the encore and gig, leaving the audience literally breathless. It's certainly been a long time between drinks, but I'm glad that I fell off the wagon with these amazing musicians and performers.

Bootleg multimedia

Jim James crooning away

Lead guitarist Carl Broemel rocking on

It's 1975 all over again

Performance of "The way that he sings"

Jam at the end of "Run thru"

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