I have the privilege of seeing a lot of live music. This year alone I attended four different festivals, including Coachella in Indio, Lollapalooza in Chicago, Outside Lands in San Francisco, and Gentlemen of the Road in Monterey.
But nothing could quite prepare me for an experience as unique as the My Morning Jacket concert at Berkeley's Greek Theater on September 15.
For almost a year I've been hearing about the wonder that is an MMJ show from friends who saw them at the Bill Graham in San Francisco last December. I've been incessantly bombarded with their albums, videos of their shows and interviews with the band. All of the above are inarguably awesome, yet somehow I didn't quite understand the enthusiasm my friends showed. Sure, they play some good tunes, but why is everyone acting like this band is some sort of contemporary Rolling Stones?
That question was answered last Saturday night.
Being at a My Morning Jacket show is being in the presence of true rock and roll. Lead guitarist/vocalist Jim James, with his long curly hair and shaggy beard, dressed in a cape that looked like it was made from a Mexican blanket and wearing western style pointy-toed boots, had the whole audience both jumping up and down with intensity and tearing up at the appropriate lyrical moments. Accompanied by bassist "Two Tone Tommy" Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, keyboards and percussionist Bo Koster and guitarist and saxophonist Carl Broemel, MMJ's performance was nothing short of miraculous.
I don't think I ever fully saw James' face because of how much long curly hair was covering it during all the rocking out. His voice is a unique presence among the instrumentals; velvety smooth but at times almost croaky (which isn't much of a surprise, considering he cites Kermit the Frog as one of his influences).
One song that was particularly meaningful for me to see live was "Dondante," from their 2006 album Z, which tells the story of James' friend who committed suicide. Every time he finishes playing the song live, he takes a moment to go backstage and talk to his late friend. After playing a very powerful and emotional rendition of Dondante at the Greek, James did as he always does and stepped away from the stage. To some this may have seemed strange, but to know what he was doing in that moment made the song that much more beautiful.
To end the evening they played a few songs with Shabazz Palaces, the hip hop collective that opened the concert. The hip-hop, rock, psychedelic fusion the two bands created was an amazing way to end the night. Their set seemed much too short, and I am already anticipating the next time I can attend a My Morning Jacket show.
For anyone who may think they don't connect to this band, or aren't really a fan of their music, please see them live. It will quickly change your mind.