My Morning Jacket @ Riverside Theater
Oct. 3, 2008
To many indie rock purists, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James has committed a most grievous sin: He has infected the scene with a sort of jam-band aesthetic. And, based upon their recent sold-out show at the Riverside Theater, such critics may have a point. James, looking the part of an unrepentant Deadhead, stretched his compositions to their breaking point, turning each of his band's songs into what seemed like organic improv sessions. With plenty of dueling guitar solos and monstrous drum fills, MMJ's performance was a prime example of musical excess.
Yet the band's set was also incredibly entertaining, a point that was not lost on the throngs of fans who hung onto James' every note. My Morning Jacket clearly understands the power of the spectacle, and James and company did everything they possibly could to turn their set into a true event. From the elaborate light show to James' eclectic wardrobe (he donned a cape throughout much of the evening), it was apparent that the group sought to completely overwhelm the audience-both sonically and visually. It was a strategy that ultimately paid off. For many of the group's peers, live shows remain dour and serious affairs. If nothing else, My Morning Jacket reminds us that independent music can-and perhaps should-be fun.
Interestingly, it was material from the band's breakthrough 2005 album Z that most benefited from such an approach. An extended version of "Off the Record," for example, saw that song turn from a relatively innocuous (though highly catchy) pop song into a true barnburner, while the band's take on "It Beats 4 U" can best be described as sublime. By comparison, the songs from MMJ's most recent album-2008's Evil Urges-seemed a bit pedestrian. Z hinted at a band intent on blurring all artificial musical boundaries and genres. Here's hoping that this tour reminds the band of the promise of such an artistic strategy.