My Morning Jacket, at least to me, are a festival band. It's their natural habitat. Their records are built to be projected across city parks. Out of the half dozen times we have settled in front of Jim James and company, it's been mostly in a festival setting, either shooting pictures of them in a crowded photo pit or watching from a football field away.
Last night's Verizon set was an exercise in readjustment. You mean we can get close to the stage? I can see Jimmy's shoes? No one is laying blissed-out on a blanket with a random baby in diaper? Tight. Wait, it's not going to loud as we are used to? Shame. That was our biggest complaint, the volume. Drown out the stiffs and the dips.
This MMJ platter was also their first date in Houston since they more or less hit the mainstream, through word of mouth and a fun appearance on Fox's American Dad, which painted them rightfully as a wooly, jammy, drinking band.
Openers Delta Spirit tenderized the crowd with songs from this year's History From Below, getting help from MMJ's Patrick Hallahan on percussion early on in their set. Are they dance-folk? They have a propulsion in them that's not seen in their genre. Later in the evening after their set they were seen at Fitzgerald's across town taking in the The Fling and Yukon Blonde show.
Kicking off the night slow with "Victory Dance" from this year's Circuital (pronounced by James on record as "see-cure-it-all"), the band was taxiing for at least the first five songs, not reaching altitude until the new "Outta My System" ("They told me not to smoke drugs, but I wouldn't listen...") when we could hear MMJ floating above.
Every MMJ show has that point where things take flight. Sometimes it happens quicker. Before we get to that point, guitarist Carl Broemel will always wow you with his sturdy subtlety, earning his position as one of the best guitarists of his generation. Aside from Hallahan, he's where the nerdy action is onstage at an MMJ show.
The band pulled out two relative rarities in "War Begun" and "Phone Went West", sating the die-hards who thought they forgot about anything from before 2003's It Still Moves.
Since it was released in 2008, Evil Urges' "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2" has become a sort of climax to the live MMJ experience, throwing ethereal Brian Eno flourishes and Prince-y funk into the band's Kentucky smokehouse.
A four-cut encore came bearing "Wordless Chorus" from 2005's crucial but underrated Z, and two from the new Circuital. "Holdin' On To Black Metal" is confounding on record but makes since live, with the big dumb salvo and the nonsense lyrics selling it hard.
We close with "One Big Holiday" from It Still Moves, which is arguably their "Freebird" and we mean that in the most non-ironic sense. I will put on my favorite hippie pants and say it soars.
Once again, our only complaint was that Thursday night wasn't deafening, which is probably not a valid complaint at all.
Personal Bias: Yever listen to It Still Moves at full volume while driving in a rainstorm on the way to Austin nearing midnight?
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The Crowd: Blah, blah, beards, blondes, blah, blah, puffy down jacket, blah brown shoes.
Overheard in the Crowd: "After they do the one from American Dad, let's go get a beer and smoke."
Random Notebook Dump: I would pay good money to see MMJ perform a Steely Dan album in it's entirety, like Can't Buy A Thrill namely. What? Is "War Begun" not supposed to sound like "Dirty Work"?
My Morning Jacket Setlist: