Z

My Morning Jacket, Live at the Keller Auditorium

Over the years, My Morning Jacket has built a reputation as one of the best live acts in the world, an assertion with which I would emphatically agree, based on the several MMJ concerts I have witnessed over the years.  Though there were a few moments that came close to reaching the peaks of past shows, the overall experience from Wednesday night was more of a mixed bag, with a generally tentative performance that saw the band attempting to shake off some rust in kicking off the fall leg of their tour.  Then again, that may be merely the complaints of an overly pessimistic critic/spoiled fan; it is hard to come away disappointed when you get to hear beautiful rarities like “Bermuda Highway” or rock out to “Mahgeetah” and “One Big Holiday”.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

An attempt to capture one of the more spectacular lighting effects.

Perhaps we are speaking from a mild case of bitterness, since as a part of “My Morning Jacket Week” we highlighted the song “Lay Low” and the group’s ability to rip out some amazing covers, and ended the night with neither.  But it does speak to the depth of the band’s catalog that they could leave out staples like “Steam Engine”, “Phone Went West”, or “Dondante” and still construct a solid setlist.  The show was heavy on material from their latest album, The Waterfall, and while there is still a lot to that record that feels underwhelming, the songs do gain an additional spark in a live setting.  The album’s best tracks, “Tropics (Erase Traces)” and “Only Memories Remain”, sound even better live, with the former exploding with energy and the latter stretched to an epic length and augmented by some excellent solos.

The band did not say a word to the crowd the entire night, and frontman Jim James was cautious with his movements, with a slowed-down version of the duckwalk being his sole bit of showmanship (aside from the traditional donning of the cloak for “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2”).  There were a couple of moments where different members missed a line or added a beat, or even failing to figure out when a song should end, and the soundboard had problems with the mix for most of the night.  But there were several moments where everything synced up perfectly, such as the dazzling light display for “At Dawn” or the dip into crowd favorites from the Z era with “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record”.  And once again, the band showed their knack for reworking their older material, with thrilling renditions of “Master Plan” and “Knot Comes Loose”.

A view of "At Dawn" from approximately Hillsboro.

A view of “At Dawn” from approximately Hillsboro.

Opener Strand of Oaks impressed the early crowd and made several new fans that night.  They initially impressed with some excellent metal-leaning chops, and then won over the audience with their tale of driving 31 hours from Champaign, Illinois to make the gig that night to play with their heroes.  They took a risk with some of their more downbeat material that followed, but finished up with a fantastic slow-building closer that had the crowd amped for the main event.

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.