Jim James, frontman of rock group My Morning Jacket, has been (or at least should be) running on fumes lately.
Last year he contributed music to “Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes,” a collection of unreleased songs from Bob Dylan. He also co-produced “That’s It!,” the recent album for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. And if that weren’t enough, MMJ has released a new record. “The Waterfall,” is their seventh, full-length album and one of their most trippiest to date.With that much material under their belts and a legion of devoted fans, the group is suddenly finding themselves in strange territory where they simply have too many iconic songs to cram into a set – fans refuse to let them leave without at least one encore. And MMJ always deliver what their fans want.
Opening quartet Hippo Campus set the pace for the show at Peabody Opera Housewith beachy, indie-pop mini-jams that were dreamy without being tired, whimsical without being out-of-whack. They’re youthful songs from a youthful band – four recent art grads from St. Paul, Minnesota. They took the stage in informal attire and played to a near full house, an unusual feat for opening bands these days and a testament to the kind of national attention they’ve received. They played a brief, enthusiastic set, burning through material from their first EP. Their closing song,” Bashful Creatures,” had lead singer Jake Luppen vamping on the chorus — “Don’t try to fight it anymore,” he crooned. Good advice to follow for such exciting new tunes.
It took nearly an hour for techs to set up shop and sound check, but when the lights dimmed and MMJ took the stage, people immediately stood up in their seats. “You can’t sit down for this,” a fan gushed nearby. James took the stage with long-time bandmates, bassist Tom Blankenship, drummer Patrick Hallahan, keyboardist Bo Koster and lead guitarist Carl Broemel all taking their places. The band has come along way since their critically-acclaimed 2006 album “Z,” but their progression has led them to a more comfortable view of themselves, more nuanced and playful.
The entire show was an epic jam of new songs and old favorites. For “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall),” prog-heavy riffage responded in kind to booming strobe flashes. The stage was awash in aurora-borealis lights, setting the mood for classic MMJ tunes like, “The Way That He Sings” and “Wordless Chorus.” For the latter, James had visible trouble singing the higher pitched vocals — the harmonies were obviously dubbed, giving his voice a chance to recover. But the rest of the band remained stoic during the entire set. Hallahan was on point for every song, never missing a beat, while Koster and Blankenship maintained the lows and highs with bass and synths.
Material from the new album worked just as well as anything the band has produced, shifting easily from Southern-inspired rock to orchestral folk and weaving a brilliant tapestry of unique sounds. By the time they began dipping into work from their catalogue, fans could not be contained and began cramming towards the stage. James finally paused and addressed the crowd directly. “Good old St. Louis,” he said. “Not only a thrill, not only a privilege, but a god damn honor to play in St. Louis!” The break didn’t last long before the band was back at it again with “Thin Line,” a summer-infused song with Bee Gees-inspired vocals. James switched guitars to his trademark Gibson Flying V to tackle a 15-minute improv on “Dondante.” But Broemel’s guitar work outshined him during their best hit, “Lay Low,” with both he and James unifying a cascading guitar solo as a finale.
James took another moment to make a comment about Ferguson. “What a mistake it is to judge people for the color of their skin or their sexual orientation,” he said. “I say a prayer for a peace and equality and hope.” He and the crowd were in complete agreement. The statement was followed by the apropos “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” a feel-good song that had the devotees singing along. MMJ closed the show with one of its most beloved and inspirational songs, “Gideon,” with big chords and a sprawling beat, drenched in reverb. James appeared breathless but thankful for a hard night’s work. But fortunately for fans, downtime doesn’t seem to be in the band’s near future