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Friday, June 17, 2011

My Morning Jacket @ The Riverside Theater

June 16, 2011

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Many bands earn praise as must-see live acts through prolific touring and lengthy, improvised sets—add a couple psychedelic guitar freak-outs here, a few 10-minute songs there and throw in some long hair for good measure, and that'll have people raving about the shows. That describes the basic jam band offering, and it's also what My Morning Jacket does well live, but to classify My Morning Jacket solely as a jam band doesn't do them justice. The Louisville, Ky., outfit, and more specifically frontman Jim James, demonstrated Thursday night at the Riverside Theater a certain panache that other psychedelic rockers can't match.

James can play goofy, like during "Wordless Chorus" when he slid on his knees across the stage, the cape around his shoulders falling off, shouting his falsetto into the microphone like a reanimated James Brown. Or he can be heartfelt, like during "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," which he sang with opener Daniel Martin Moore. Mainly, though, the dude just rocks. Whether it's the melodic riffing on the anthemic "One Big Holiday" or his frenzied solo during "Lay Low," James displayed his outstanding chops as a guitarist.

Great live performances tend to overshadow studio work, but My Morning Jacket doesn't suffer from that problem. With three stellar albums in the first decade of the 2000s, the band broke out of their alt-country beginnings and crafted their own reverb-laden, Southern-rock sound. My Morning Jacket released their latest album, Circuital, a few weeks ago, and relied heavily on that material during their two-and-a-half-hour, 25-song set.

Record and set opener "Victory Dance" showcased James' ferocity. In his high, white fuzzy boots, he paced back and forth on the stage. He even let out a few screams before the song concluded. He truly resembled a caged animal, fighting for emancipation. Other highlights included the head-bobber "Off the Record," the sprawling "Steam Engine" and the '60s Thai-pop pastiche "Holding On to Black Metal." Despite touring for 10-plus years, these guys affirmed their reputation not only as a stellar live act, but as a relevant band as well.

Photo by CJ Foeckler