Over the past ten years, Jim James has pushed My Morning Jacket, his spaced-out jam-rock ensemble, up the musical food chain. They’ve ascended from weeknight slots in sweaty cramped rock clubs to headliners at sprawling outdoor festivals, tony theaters, and cavernous basketball arenas; all appropriate enough venues for the band’s thunderous roar and spectacular rock and roll theatrics, but a little distant at times for long time fans who went from dodging the sweat pouring from James’ mane to instead focusing on the video screens for subtle changes in his oeuvre. However, the release of James’ solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, has afforded him the opportunity to bring his eclectic musical sound-scapes back to those smaller venues, giving him the freedom and intimacy to try new ideas and providing onlookers (which tonight included The Roots drummer Questlove and Mad Men/Community star Allison Brie beaming from the side of the stage) a close-up view of the action.
And make no mistake, James’ show is still filled with action. Backed by a four-piece ensemble, featuring Dave Givan on drums, Alana Rocklin on bass, Dan Dorf on keyboards, and Kevin Ratterman on keys/guitar/samples, the more subdued nuances of the solo album’s nine tracks were ratcheted up for full effect in the live setting, as they plowed through the album in its entirety before returning for a four-song encore of My Morning Jacket tracks. Where the recorded output oozes subtlety, the live show was all roar, with the music, the stage lights, and the energy of the sold-out crowd assaulting the senses and demanding rapt attention. It all sounded great and fresh, and although James could maybe stand to add one more musician to the fold to lessen the reliance at times on the backing track sounds, he’s assembled a crew that should only continue to gel as the tour progresses. This show was only their fourth time in front of an audience, after all.
Regardless, it is James who is always at the forefront. He seems to be using this new solo artist arrangement to channel his most powerful front-man leanings. All night, he strutted the stage incanting the high notes like James Brown, rocking his head back and forth like vintage Axl Rose, and commanding the room like the true rock star he has become.
When not holding court with the mic, he stepped up to a racked Flying V guitar and shredded the outros of “Dear One” and “God’s Love To Deliver” with intensely jagged freak-outs. He threw a new wrinkle in as well, breaking out the sax and leading a few solos, ala a live role filled often at MMJ shows by guitarist Carl Broemel. And, speaking of band-mates, Brooklyn resident and MMJ bassist Tommy Blankenship hopped up on stage during the encore and added some heavily distorted guitar fuzz to “Touch Me, I’m Going To Scream, Part 2” and “Victory Dance”. A nice authentic touch, as it’s often a dicey affair when artists interpret band work with a new and unfamiliar lineup.
James’ show was pleasantly preceded by a solid six-song set by Dean Wareham, who ably riffed through a couple classic Galaxie 500 gems backed by a three-piece outfit that included his wife and longtime collaborator Britta Phillips. Sadly, despite his presence in the audience, the band was not joined onstage by guitarist Sean Eden, forcing the music world to again wait for a Luna reunion.
Dean Wareham Setlist:
Happy and Free
When Will You Come Home
Jim James Setlist:
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)
Know ‘Til Now
A New Life
Of The Mother Again
All Is Forgiven
God’s Love To Deliver
Wonderful (The Way I Feel) (Jim solo acoustic)
Touch Me, I’m Going To Scream, Part 2 w/Tommy Blankenship