My Morning Jacket: September 3, DAR Constitution Hall


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MP3: My Morning Jacket – Highly Suspicious from Evil Urges (2008)

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MP3: My Morning Jacket – Get Down On It (Kool and the Gang) live from Bonnaroo 2008

This Wednesday, DAR Constitution Hall will host My Morning Jacket, who recently has been touted by the media as the greatest live act in the world. It’s the kind of fanboy drooling usually reserved for Iron Maiden or U2 or Kiss, bands that really want you to believe they’re the greatest, but it’s the first time I’ve heard that kind of praise leveled on a band whose rise to popularity I’ve fully witnessed and who may not have even peaked yet. Maybe people of the generation before mine recall the rise of Pearl Jam and Radiohead and their nomination for that title. My Morning Jacket never had a huge breakthrough chart-topping single like either of those bands, and I doubt they ever will unless Jim James develops a more radio-friendly voice–although one could have said the same of Neil Young in 1970.

Mostly the band deserves credit for bringing back the necessity of live performance in an era when you can facelessly download music to your heart’s content all day. This last tour they’ve been playing three hour sets (which, yes, you can download all over the web, try searching here first), usually with a few covers of songs you probably haven’t heard in a while–I keep thinking of the Bonnaroo tape where they start playing “Get Down On It” and Jim James is baiting the audience “Do you remember this one?…I hope you do…I hope we remember it…” They’ve also done James Brown, Lionel Ritchie, Bobby Womack, Funkadelic, Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, Sly & the Family Stone, Bob Dylan, War, Pink Floyd, Santana, The Velvet Underground, The Band, and of course, Erykah Badu.

Even though professional music critics and we amateur bloggers get slammed for doing it, teasing out the influences is what’s so damn fun about listening to My Morning Jacket (who, to be honest, when I first heard their name, I immediately though of My Bloody Valentine). They’re not breaking new ground, they’re stoking the past, but they’re having a good time doing it and extroverting an energy which you can feel in the audience. They’re reminding us of the reasons our parents listened to music, which didn’t have anything to do with taking yourself seriously or establishing credibility but with drinking a few beers and having a good time. And unlike the early 2000s garage rock revialists or current 70s transplants Midlake (who are something of an anomaly), wearing their influences on their sleeve and all the while crafting modern indie music, My Morning Jacket really sounds like the B-sides you never heard to all your favorite singles from twenty or forty years gone.

MMJ’s last album, Evil Urges , was a bit harshly received by fans, who generally liked it but thought it lacked inspiration. To borrow a phrase from the allmusic.com review of the Pixies’ Bossanova , it’s “like a straight-A student who suddenly receives a B+.” Criticism generally stems from two issues: (1) the music doesn’t have the same urgency, and (2) the new territory they do explore–as on “Highly Suspicious,” the vocal melody of which I think is actually lifted from an old Butthole Surfers track—was perhaps best left unearthed. Evil Urges was a bit more of a conservative effort in terms of production, but Jim James has always been more interested with assuming other musician’s styles than claiming his own, so the different variety of songs on the record just seems to me like the next step. It was generally aspects of the production that people identified with My Morning Jacket; they never had a songwriting approach you could pin down. Z certainly didn’t stay in the southern rock vein for too long, “Anytime” borrows a melody from the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “It Beats for You” opens sounding like early Arcade Fire, and “Off The Record”‘s riff comes straight outta Hawaii Five-O. You can play this game for practically every song on every record they’ve made, but they always turn these influences as a launching point into something other than where they originally went by resolving a chord progression differently or dropping into a new tempo after the last bar.

If the last album drew more from popular performers and not as much from indie-rock forefathers, it didn’t rock any less as a result. Their characteristically reverbed, live-band sound is almost gone because they don’t need it anymore, as most people know by now that their live performances are where they really shine. They exude a casual professionalism that comes from performing night after night flawlessly and making the jump from playing mostly clubs with a few hundred people to playing mostly ampitheatres with ten thousand. That’s where they’ve always belonged, as the cover of At Dawn suggests. And they do it extraordinarily well, so you should see them the next chance you get.

(P.S. Can anyone tell me the name of that Butthole Surfers tune I’m thinking of? It’s the same vocal melody with those Gibbytronix effects on top. Thanks.)

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2 Responses to “My Morning Jacket: September 3, DAR Constitution Hall”

  1. Greg Szeto says:

    I gotta disagree on some points. I think you can break new ground by stoking the past. MMJ have successfully done so, assimilating much that has come before and making new, bold music from the bits and pieces.

    In some ways, deconstructing their influences is, in fact, a moot point. It’s like the structure of matter itself…if you start examining things on a smaller and smaller scale, you start to see similarities since all matter is made of subatomic particles and share the same physical properties.

    So it is with music.

    I think the biggest testaments to MMJ’s artistry and originality are that: 1) the majority of their music is unmistakably theirs, and 2) their versatility (evidenced by their wide range of successful covers) is astounding.

    artists today generally break new ground in one of two ways: finding one of those increasingly obscure, unexplored areas of sound and music or they synthesize and fuse aspects of musicians and genres before them into a brand new musical alloy. MMJ fall into the latter category.

  2. Sleepy Pedro, a taper out of Annapolis, taped this show:


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