Jim James

Feats of Strength: My Morning Jacket

In honor of their show Wednesday night at the Keller Auditorium, we are declaring this to be My Morning Jacket Week.  Today, we take a closer look at one of their greatest songs, “Lay Low”.

My Morning Jacket broke through with the critically-acclaimed album Z, a diverse record that saw the band expand their sound by incorporating numerous diverse influences (including dub and reggae) into their brand of gothic Southern rock.  Not only was it an artistic triumph, it was a commercial success, as it served as an introduction for many to one of the best-kept secrets in indie rock.  I was personally able to convert many of my friends into fans with the help of both Z and the accompanying live album Okonokos, and they have remained devoted to the band to this day as a result.

The centerpiece of the record is the power ballad “Lay Low”, which endures as a highlight of the band’s live show.  The song is broken up into two parts, a tender, but groovy, first half, and an instrumental outro which features a blistering guitar solo from frontman Jim James.  The brilliant solo itself is an obvious draw, a great blend of musicianship and showmanship–it features a beautiful melody that captivates the audience, while also throwing in a handful of flourishes like a series of quick hammer-ons and deep slow bends, that show off some technical chops without drifting into “wankery”, for lack of a better word.

However, it is how James’s solo is incorporated with the rest of the band that makes “Lay Low” such a great song.  Throughout the solo, the other members are complementing James’s work and laying down an excellent foundation, including Carl Broemel’s second guitar counterpoint melody.  The song’s climax is when all five members lock into this wonderful groove, in a moment that still gives me chills to this day.  It is captured perfectly in the video from Okonokos embedded above, when at the 5:05 mark the camera switches to a center-band shot that zooms out until everyone is in view.

It is not just the solo, but the work of the whole band, that created such a masterpiece.

The War On Drugs, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Regular readers of this site know how much we love the latest album from The War On Drugs, the absolutely superb Lost In The Dream.  It’s one thing for an album to sound great on record, but it is of course no guarantee that the songs will translate live very well.  Considering how much effort the band expended in constructing each song in the studio, there is always the risk that it may be impossible to replicate in a live setting.  The band was very conscious of this possibility (as the linked article shows), and spent weeks figuring out ways to ease the transition.  I can report that it’s clear from Sunday night’s show that the band has nailed the challenge.

It's intentional, and not my crappy photography

Hazy photo matches hazy music

The band gave the audience a clue from the get-go about how committed they were to being faithful to the album by reproducing the mechanical clicking whirr that marks the start of “Under the Pressure”.  After that quick intro, the band launched into the hard-charging opener, and the live energy made a great song even better.  I had predicted that “Baby Missiles” would be a likely show closer, so it threw me when they played it so early in the set, right after the opener.  It took a couple of verses before the sound engineer got the buoyant keyboard part at the right level in the mix, but the crowd didn’t mind this minor problem as they bounced around to the beat.

Songs from Slave Ambient blended in seamlessly with the new material, which was heavily featured throughout the set (the entirety of Lost In The Dream but the instrumental “The Haunting Idle” was played).  Frontman Adam Granduciel also was a fun and engaging presence throughout, and kept it light with the audience even when minor difficulties like a busted string after a particularly raucous solo from “An Ocean In Between The Waves” dulled some of the momentum.  He endeared himself to the crowd by giving a shout-out to The Doug Fir and by informing us that he wishes that everyday was Saturday, except when he was younger the wish was for Thursday, because that was when Seinfeld was on (he then explained he now prefers Saturday again because Seinfeld is on every day (AS IT SHOULD BE)).

The band was in top form, improving on even some of their best songs.  “Eyes To The Wind”, a fantastic mid-tempo folk-rocker, had an added coda that had the entire group locked in a groove as Adam piled on some gorgeous solos above the mix.  “Burning” really rips on the record, but with the added energy of the crowd they’re able to kick it up another notch.

I attempt computer tricks to overcome my crappy photography

Jim James joins the band on stage

As we posted in our roundup yesterday, the band had a special guest for their encore, as Jim James joined the band on a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games”.  There had been a couple of hints that we would witness something special, but I’ll admit that when I first saw a roadie that looked like the frontman of The Decemberists setting up an extra microphone, my first thought was “Did Colin Meloy gain some weight and grow a beard?”  I think pseudo-Colin would have been a decent choice, but Jim James was definitely an upgrade.  After the raucous cover, the band finished their encore with some of the more downbeat numbers, a perfect end as Sunday night gradually turned into another Monday morning.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 31 Edition)

It looks like a pretty good Monday–a lot of new music, videos, and other fun stuff to kick off your week.

We mentioned this on Friday, and today our suspicions were confirmed: The Antlers are about to release a new album!  Familiars will be released state-side on June 17, so mark your calendars now (or just save the hassle and pre-order).  Meanwhile, watch the music video the band released for the lead single, “Palace”–it’s as delicately gorgeous as you would expect, and the band has already done the courtesy of providing the lyrics for you on their Tumblr.

Stereogum has the premiere of the single from former member of The Walkmen Peter Matthew Bauer, the festive “Latin American Ficciones”.  It definitely evokes the spirit of his former band, especially in the insistent trebly guitar, with a nice spare percussion backing track.  This follows on the heels of the recent new music we’ve heard from other former members Walter Martin and Hamilton Leithauser.  It’s unlikely that any of the projects will reach the heights of the best work of The Walkmen, but all of the songs that have been released are rather promising, so fingers crossed.

Everyone should be familiar with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” right now, but you may not know the “science” behind the hit.  Owen Pallett takes a look at the underlying music theory that makes the song work so well.  He takes a couple of liberties to make it easier to understand for beginners, but it’s a solid look at the underpinnings of the tune.

This actually appeared on my Facebook feed on Friday, but I’m linking to it now because we need more ways to kill time at the beginning of the week.  NPR has a quick quiz of “Name That Drum Fill”, and I think most people should do pretty well.

And finally, last night I had the great pleasure to see album-of-the-year frontrunners The War On Drugs in person at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland.  It was a blistering set, and the new songs really kick live.  We may run a quick review of the show in the next couple of days, but I’m going to pass along a video from one of the highlights of the show: it was when Jim James of My Morning Jacket showed up for the encore to sing a cover of John Lennon’s “Mind Games” with the band.