My Morning Jacket @ The Riverside Theater

By - Nov 27th, 2006 02:52 pm
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By Caz McChrystal + Photos by Kat Berger

The Riverside Theater

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(GO HERE to see more photos from the show)

My Morning Jacket presented a perfect specimen of an elusive form at the Riverside Theater this past Tuesday night, the modern rock concert.

But it is difficult to tell what a rock & roll concert is supposed to look like circa 2006. Decades of formulaic mayhem have littered the genre with beefed-up boredom and created a vacuum. The days in which a rock band’s greatness was measured by its ability to roll into a city like Rommel and conquer a submissive audience waiting to be played at are over.

Rather, My Morning Jacket exploded the notion of what a rock concert is by playing to a rapt audience and treating the show as if it was a fragile being to be nurtured and coaxed out into the open.

By the time the lights at the Riverside had gone black and MMJ emerged to open with “Wordless Chorus,” the crowd was already on its feet and moving along with the intelligently complicated rhythms. And it stayed that way for the nearly two hours that MMJ played.

The first quarter of the show steadily built upon itself, reaching a high point with the reggae nod “”Off the Record.” The tune’s intro, a direct quotation of the seminal Hawaii Five-O opening riff thawed-out the mid-November crowd, warming up the audience before cooling it down with a run of slower-paced songs.

The downshift to slower, searching improvisations broke down the rock show format, in which slower songs usually get tossed in only sporadically, and then only to give the drummer a brief respite. Here, it felt as though the band wanted to give the audience a chance to regroup, and it was well timed. Although some of these extended instrumental breaks noodled a little too long, MMJ never lost the audience.

Coming out of this mellow and spacey section, MMJ slid into “Golden,” an archetypal country song off the It Still Moves record. For that song, guitarist Carl Broemel sat before a pedal steel and belted out one of those heartbroken but hopeful Nashville harmonies that felt down home and far out at the same time. This wonderful slide playing, accompanied by the plaintive vocals of Jim James, drove home the fact that MMJ is not just a group of guys who plays instruments, but musicians who not only take pride in their craft, but take it seriously.

My Morning Jacket ended its show with the anthemic “Mehgeetah,” which came at the close of a half hour long encore. The impact of the show, however, did not flow from any single song they unexpectedly pulled out or effectively performed, it came from the overall arc of the evening.

The concert seemed to ebb and flow, rocking with high intensity for periods only to draw back into esoteric musical self-searching in other parts. The mood would change within some songs, and sometimes without any discernible corner that had been turned. It was as if the band and audience alike suddenly found themselves in a new place, only to search further for the next musical state in which to settle. It was clearly not a run-of-the-mill rock concert; this came from a more self-conscious place.

Perhaps there is no such thing as a rock show anymore. Or perhaps My Morning Jacket has simply left the genre behind, in search of a more intelligent musical landscape in which to meet its audience. VS

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