My Morning Jacket
September 15, 2012
Better than: That long-awaited Skynyrd/Muppets/Flaming Lips mash-up you hallucinated last Saturday.
There's little that the members of My Morning Jacket haven't seen in their now 15-year career. Beloved amongst scene kids and jam-bobbing hippies alike, MMJ seems to have gotten everyone on board with its stadium-sized arrangements and extended saxophone solos. But the Louisville, KY five-piece never seems content to rest on its laurels. By taking cues from fans as well as new collaborators, My Morning Jacket's work seems continually in flux, despite the group's level of consistency and quality.
Saturday's show at the Greek Theatre wrapped up the band's summer tour, and also brought a close to its first foray into what they call a "Spontaneous Curation Series." The effort introduced a semblance of audience participation into determining setlists, with the band soliciting specially hash-tagged requests on Twitter for each date, and leaving nothing in the band's catalogue off-limits. The band acknowledged at least four curations for Saturday's show, including "One Great Holiday" and opener "Circuital," on Twitter.
Joining My Morning Jacket and concluding a string of summer dates together, opener Shabazz Palaces provided a stark counterpoint to the headlining act. The Seattle hip-hop duo, led by Digable Planets member Ishmael Butler, proffered downtempo, dubby beats as part of its sundown set. But if MMJ fans could have curated the opening act, it's unlikely the enigmatic collective would have been their first choice.
MMJ frontman Jim James powered his group through a set of Southern-tinged rockers tailored to an open-air experience. They buck all the usual jam band trends, and continue to at least attempt to surprise their fanbase. That said: this writer, just embarking on his fourth decade, probably won't ever fully appreciate MMJ's keep-on-rockin' schtick. Nor is much of their fanbase talking much about innovation with respect to the group. To many, they've been forever banished into the "Awesome Live" zone.
But unlike jammy contemporaries like Phish or String Cheese Incident, who often support their economies with live performance and audience interaction, MMJ actually has a strong catalog. Fans on Saturday could recognize an "Outta My System" or "Victory Dance" as distinct pieces, not so much as continuous jams but as elegant standalone songs; same with "Gideon" or "Old Sept Blues." (Although the band did get into a few long-ass jams throughout the night). It's tough to imagine Jim James and his band of hippie rednecks making a bad move up on that stage, and on Saturday they had all the right ones.
Weird band: It's easy to forget that the guys are actually pretty weird dudes, but they easily stand up to their big-brother colleagues the Flaming Lips in the quirk factor. No, they don't show up onstage with a hundred people in costume, but James did wear some sort of Technicolor dreamcoat, and looked for a while like a stuffed bear in a poncho.
Not weird fans: It's worth re-iterating the level of normalcy of this supposed psychedelic rock band's fanbase. MMJ adherents at the Greek could more often be found sipping lattes and white wine than slamming beers and whiskeys, and if the sample size of my observations is an indicator, they appear to hit the grass about as often as any other Bay Area liberals. They're aging, much like the band itself, and they're bringing their kids to the show and into the mosh pit -- this a decade after many of them were introduced to the band at festivals or late night dorm-room listening sessions. So it says something to me when MMJ goes out on a limb and brings Shabazz Palaces on tour with them, even bringing them on stage for the final two songs, rather than throttling back for an audience that would have been happy with far less.