Wake with me for a minute. Imagine you’re at Bonnaroo some years back and you’re slowly being roused from an impromptu nap in the grass after catching the end of the Decemberists set -- you begin to hear a low roar as My Morning Jacket takes the Which Stage. You loved the Decemberists; you’ve heard good things about MMJ, but after hot days in the sun and abbreviated nights of sleep, you also love a good nap. You hear the opening lines of what you later find out is “Victory Dance;” a strong feeling tells you that this is something you should wake for. Like a cobra in a basket, the music makes you spring from your blanket. Your drowsiness wears off as the band gets into their set. You overhear a couple behind you talking about the legendary performance that My Morning Jacket put on three years prior, when they performed a nearly four-hour set on the same stage in the pouring rain. Were they serious? Would people listen to four hours of this in a downpour? As the concert comes to a close with a sprawling rendition of “One Big Holiday,” you realize that, yes, people would listen to four hours of this. People could live like this.
As it turns out, that couple was serious--in 2008 MMJ took the stage on Saturday morning at midnight and proceeded to play well into the early morning hours in intermittent rain. After over 120 minutes and 21 songs, they took an intermission. They then returned to play another 14 songs, including a bonus single-song encore cover ofMötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” accompanied by Zach Galifianakis dressed as little orphan Annie. Most bands would just take the obligatory break andmaybehit a three-song encore before triumphantly returning to their tour bus. A two-plus hour festival set is a long show, typically two albums worth of music. Even if you’re seeing a headliner you probably shouldn’t expect more than two hours. Four hours is too long of a show for mere mortals, but mere mortals they are not. They are crusaders for live music, hence the long black cloak Jim James wears throughout most performances.
These guys don’t just come out and run through their best known songs for a paycheck--they’re authentic, genuine artists. They’re more interested in creating a different kind of concert experience; the jam-band quality of the performance, along with the particular brand of guitar rock they play, make for an experience that’s easy to become one with, to drift off for a while and forget about everything else. They turn their studio tracks into strolling journeys, interacting with the crowd on a visceral level. There are highs, there are lows; falsetto passages and baritone. They’ll play the songs you know, and they’ll play the songs you don’t. They’ll sprinkle in a cover here and there, and the whole experience will make you want to dig into their catalog to try to make a playlist to recreate the set at home. They can turn a 4-minute album track into a 15-minute live version that will make you forget your own name.
My Morning Jacket typically close their set with “One Big Holiday,” a track from their 2003 albumIt Still Moves,a song that has become somewhat of a mantra for Jim James & Co., one that can epitomize what’s great about a My Morning Jacket show as a whole: not the song or the lyrics in particular, but the spirit. The song recounts a bit of what it might have been like to be on the verge of discovery, dreaming about hitting it big and living life like everydayisa holiday. As it turns out, they now run a music festival under the name “One Big Holiday.” It’s somewhat of an anomaly in the festival world in that it takes place at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico and sells out 7+ months ahead of time. They do play Bonnaroo fairly frequently, as good neighbors from nearby Kentucky, and have built a name for themselves as a can’t-miss draw on any festival schedule.
Most recently, I saw them perform at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver, Colorado and I felt like I had just witnessed one of the most energetic and triumphant performances of their career. But in reflection, that was just par for the course with My Morning Jacket. 28-songs, several hours of unparalleled jams, a crowd full of people lost in the dream, dancing, Jim James donning his cape in typical fashion. I talked about that show for weeks, and I still talk about it over a year later. I thought surely this was something special for me, however, after going through their setlist history, I discovered that I wasn’t so special. My Morning Jacket puts on an epic performance nearly every time they grace the stage. Understandably, they do manage to tame the beast when they must, like the respectfully concise 60-minute set I saw them put on while opening for Bob Dylan; but left to their own devices and timeline, these guys just want to let loose on the reins and perform.
I’ve seen My Morning Jacket at different times and under different circumstances, but I’ve always walked away feeling the same thing. These guys areincredible. They ask listeners to share in a collective experience more than most other bands performing today. They create a concert experience that draws in fans and passersby alike. With extensive set lists, the focused energy they perform with every night, and the emotion they exude on stage, they create the feeling that life trulyisone big holiday--why treat it otherwise?
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