I appreciate live music for many, many reasons, not the least of which is the uniqueness of the performance. Not that the artist has not performed the material a million times in front of audiences more or less identical to each other. But on any given night, something can occur that hasn’t ever been seen before. The band could pull out a cherished song they usually don’t play live. There may be a cover tune or holiday treat that may not be appropriate elsewhere or at another time. Admit it, the first time you heard Springsteen and The E Streeters giggle their way through Santa Claus is Coming To Town, you wished you had been there that December night in Syracuse.
The audience at Edgefield Manor on Saturday night was treated to just such an event. The surprise this night was the opening act and its interaction with the headliner. John Callahan and his trio, aptly named Callahan began the show shortly after six on a simply perfect early autumn night. John Callahan is well known around Portland and the world as the irreverent underground cartoonist, whose weekly single panel strip often deals with the less than perfect side of life. A quadriplegic since a 1972 accident, the author of such black humored titles as He Won’t Get Far On Foot and Will The Real John Callahan Please Stand Up? is also a singer songwriter with one release to his credit, 2006’s The Liberator.
Callahan’s songs tend toward the darks side, much like his cartoons. Suicide and tears and memories of his Portland girl filled lyrics behind well crafted, almost bluegrass melodies. Jim James came onstage and joined in for a few songs on acoustic guitar and background vocals (the aforementioned uniqueness factor) and the pair harmonized like they were brothers. Callahan commented that one song in particular felt like having feeling in his legs. Live music magic, right there, my friends.
READ ON for A.J.’s thoughts on My Morning Jacket’s set…
After a record short set change, out came Jim James with his acoustic guitar strapped and ready. He serenaded the audience with At Dawn from 2006’s Okonokos. The rest of the band joined in by the end and the party was on. Guitarist Carl Broemel started out on pedal slide guitar and kept the first few tunes more true to the band’s Kentucky roots.
By the third song (It Beats 4 U) it was all electric guitars and rampant badassery on stage. Jim James was all over the place, shaking his curls and high fiving the front two rows. Two tone Tommy and Patrick Hallihan held down the rhythm section while Bo Koster, looking suspiciously K-Fed like in his half shave and Sinatra fedora kept the psychedelic mantle intact for the whole tow hour, forty five minute MMJ love fest. And make no mistake; it was truly a love fest of Stumptown proportions.
The audience was full of truly die hard fans. To my left, Jeremy, Ray and Melinda had spent two and a half hours driving here from Hermiston. To my right, Amy and Yvonne, locals with tickets for the following evening in Seattle sang along to every song like the MMJ tour veterans they alleged to be. There was even another uberfan-turned-idiot who bit the head off a green glow stick and showered those of us in his vicinity with pasty, iridescent and smelly paint that, I must admit, added a certain charm to the overall effect that the music had on this starlit night.
The band blistered through song after song, most blending one to the other. One such segue worked in amazing fashion; Lay Low into the epic Magheetah and followed quickly by an all out fun rendition of Sec Walkin. Next, cue the tongue-in-cheek Librarian with its sixties pop paean to the clichéd bespectacled bookkeeper to let down her hair and par-tay!
This then brings me to my personal musical highlight of the evening. MMJ snuck in Dondante, which starts out slow, melodic. Then Jim James brings in the band’s sixth instrument, his magnificent set of pipes. Although strong all night, this man’s voice shone here. I’d put the extended note solo he sang Saturday night right up against Doris Troy’s glass shattering aria in Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky as far as down right badass rock and roll scat ala Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Torme in their day. The way the band treated this song was like a musical rollercoaster ride, and the audience followed along in kind, both hands raised in the air and screaming like their very lives hung in the balance and just as suddenly lowered down to earth where James’ guitar finger picking was literally the only sound heard in the venue. Each member of the band got an extended riff to call their own and each showed off their chops with class and craftsmanship. Special nod of the fedora to Two Tone Tommy on bass here. His double pumping throughout the song held the chaos together. Dondante has become my new favorite song. Nuff said.
The encore achieved the same effect. After ending the main set with the two part Touch Me I’m Gong To Scream MMJ hopped right back into boogie mode with Cobra. They then literally smoked their way through another favorite, Wordless Chorus.
The last concert of the season at Edgefield concluded with a very infectious, groove riddled Highly Suspicious from their latest release, Evil Urges. This song also belies the band’s southern roots as it sinews between synth house, metal and blues and delivered the most amazing crescendo ending that, after two and a half hours, the audience couldn’t have asked for more. They ended what James had called “…an electrifying evening with an electrified audience” on a great high note.
Exiting the lawn, I heard the same sentiment in all the lines: the ‘I’m sticking around to beat traffic and have another beer’ line, the ‘that was so amazing I have to buy the t-shirt’ line, the ‘. . . I better hit the can before we get in traffic’ line: This audience was in awe of how this band led them through the trip that is a My Morning Jacket concert and they had come out the other end witnesses to yet another once in a lifetime musical event. Like I said, a giant MMJ love fest. Live music magic.
Rock On Through The Magical Fog