Review by Derek M. Brown
Photos by Jason Charme
Who is America’s best live band? This question always stirs up some lively debate and with no definitive answer, can spur lengthy opinionated conversations that sprawl on and on. As music writers, the Metronome staff loves to kick this topic around, be it in back rooms or over bar tops. My answer is always as predictable as it is consistent. My Morning Jacket.
The boys from Louisville bring it. Night in and night out, following their fearless troubadour of a leader, Mr. Jim James, the quintet flat-out rock with a ferocity sorely lacking from much of this country’s popular music landscape. With a setlist routinely morphing from stop to stop, MMJ can deliver exciting and unpredictable sets to even the most dedicated of followers.
Whenever My Morning Jacket takes a break from the road, Jim James is back at it with his solo act. Because of his band’s live prowess onstage, and Jim’s reputation for melting faces with his 1998 Gibson Flying V, I approached McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom this past May 14 with immense curiosity and considerable expectations.
A buzz of anticipation could be heard as the near capacity crowd waited for the band to take the stage, readily sipping on overpriced ales. A Kentucky band calls for a Kentucky bourbon; and at the same price as some “Hammerhead Red,” it just made since. Two Bulleit-and-gingers later, the night was set to come alive.
Jim’s visit, part of a tour in promotion of his debut solo work, Regions of Light and Sound of God, followed a string of sold-out shows at some of America’s premier music venues including the 9:30 Club (D.C.), Carnegie Hall (NYC), Ogden Theater (Denver) and The Fillmore (San Francisco).
Regions of Light and Sound of God is not some manufactured sample of music made for consumption and in exchange for profit. It is the auditory concretization of the 1929 graphic novel God’s Man, illustrated by Lynd Ward. James found comfort in the novel after suffering horrific, tour-postponing injuries from a fall at a 2008 concert. The music is meant to be heard in order, continuously, thus the band has performed accordingly, playing Regions of Light in its entirety to begin each show.
Jim and crew came out to a clamoring greeting. As with the prior shows on this tour, James opened with a spooky tone-setting track, State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.). What followed was an early highlight of the evening. Know Til Now is an arrangement that showcases James’ diverse influences. The smooth, R&B track allows for James to float tubular vocals on the distress of growing older in a world none-wiser a la Marvin Gaye. Not bad for a musician with roots in a milkcrate of Neil Young vinyl.
Other highlights included the peaceful A New Life, the album’s single, complete with heavy George Harrison overtones. The guitar shredder in James was unleashed in the second half of All is Forgiven as James tore through a signature guitar solo that got the Crystal Ballroom’s spring-loaded dance floor bouncing.
After completing the album the band vacated the stage for a short break before returning to play a handful of tracks from James’ collective catalogue. The captivated audience sang along as James led through the lone My Morning Jacket song of the evening, Moving Away. They followed with four tracks from James’ side-project with Conor Oberst and M. Ward, Monsters of Folk. Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.), a song that has been treated to a Legendary Roots Crew remix, stole the second set and was extended to allow for some improvisational guitar thrashing. The show ended with James’ side-project’s rendition of a Woody Guthrie classic, Changing World.
This concert was satisfying. It gave me everything I wanted and expected: rocking guitar solos, bourbon infused grooves, and angelic sing-a-longs. All in all, it was a great night. When Jim James returns to Portland be sure to catch him (no matter who he’s playing with), because as this show proved, even one-fifth of MMJ is enough to blow the speakers out.
Jim James, 5/14/13
Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
State of the Art
Know Til Now
A New Life
Of The Mother Again
All Is Forgiven
Losing Your Head