Words by Chad Berndtson
Photos by Andrew Blackstein
reCAP :: My Morning Jacket :: 2019.08.09
Aug 10 / Saturday
When you’re a modern-legendary rock band playing minimal live dates, your audience is a thirsty beast in need of serious slaking. And when one of only four dates you’re planning in the span of a single year is a serious underplay, well, the stakes get higher, and the thirst gets thirstier. But this is My Morning Jacket, which always plays as if the stakes are high, the gods are forever in their favor, and they’re the last great rock band on earth. Some nights, when you’re in the thick of their eclectic, howling, psychedelic, anthemic, raunchy boogie-ing show, you’re convinced they are.
After a well-reviewed pair of return shows at Red Rocks earlier in August, Jacket stormed into the Cap Friday night ahead of what was originally their only New York City-area date of 2019, in Forest Hills. They made an occasion out of it: a complete airing of their ragged, reverb-soaked 1999 debut album, “The Tennessee Fire,” which does not contain any of MMJ’s best-known concert warhorses, but remains—20 years in!—a portrait of when a rambling little four-piece out of Kentucky with a charismatic singer and frontman, Jim James, would anticipate becoming writ large as My Morning Jacket.
Listening to “The Tennessee Fire” today, it sounds lovably spare and sort of half-finished, compared to the fuller, rounder, gnarlier, ballsier My Morning Jacket sound of today. At the Cap, the band split the difference, staying true to the core of the “Fire” songs but delivering them the way they play now: souping up their arrangements, allowing them to contort and expand, and injecting some fiery jam space where it felt right. “Old Sept Blues,” “Evelyn Is Not Real,” and “War Begun” all got this treatment, from lengthy, Crazy Horse-style guitar tangles courtesy of James and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel, to deft shifts in tempo and mood that the band that actually recorded these tunes in 1999 might have gone for but not quite been able to pull off. Toward the end of the set came roaring takes on “Picture of You” and “The Dark,” but between them, a folksy version of “I Will Be There When You Die” featuring just James and Broemel as a near-acoustic duo.
So much of My Morning Jacket’s sound rest on James’ charms as a frontman, and that voice that can veer into funky falsetto, pained soul or howling catharsis, sometimes all within the same tune. And the monster rhythm section of Patrick Hallahan and bassist Tom Blankenship kept a sturdy foundation all night, with swingman Bo Koster lending at least as much on keys, including a gospel-tinged solo in “They Ran.” A band like this triumphs as a trusting collective, but if there was one standout among equals it was Broemel, who brought so much to every song, from a thunderously applauded sax excursion during “Nashville to Kentucky,” to pedal steel on “By My Car” and the gorgeous, encore-starting reading of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” And everything seemed together on the set-closing “I Think I’m Going to Hell,” making its case for regular consideration as an MMJ closer.
Zoom out and consider it: this was one of the era’s most formidably potent rock bands, playing a show as good as anything you might have heard the same evening, that included none of their major concert staples from their current setup. The encore itself stayed in the era, turning to crowd-stokers “Rocket Man” and a singalong-ready slide through Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone,” intermixed with “Weeks Go By Like Days”—a first-time-played in nearly 10 years—and “Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You.”
Come on, guys, more dates! More music! More everything! We want it!
Nashville to Kentucky
Old Sept Blues
If All Else Fails
It’s About Twilight Now
Evelyn Is Not Real
Picture of You
I Will Be There When You Die
By My Car
I Think I’m Going to Hell
Weeks Go By Like Days
Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You
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