For a band that originated in Kentucky, My Morning Jacket sure does seem to love the city lights. The last time they played New York, they played five sold out shows at Terminal 5; each one covering another one of their albums. The time before that was an epic 3-set New Year’s show to cap off 2008 at Madison Square Garden. With another album under their belts, MMJ returned to the World’s Most Famous Arena as the final stop on their Circuital tour, and much like their previous appearance at the Garden, this was one that will be remembered.
Band of Horses held the opening duties for the night; playing to a half full arena as people still were trickling in. The sound seemed to be a little low for the opening act and the empty seats didn’t help fuel the performance, but as the set progressed and more concert-goers filled in the arena some more enthusiasm was generated. Hits such as ‘Funeral’ were saved for the latter portion of the 45 minute set and stylistically served as a good warm-up for the performance to come.The Garden lights went dark at around 9 pm and as the opening licks of ‘Victory Dance’ resonated. The opening track from Circuital ultimately broke out in a burst of controlled chaos showcasing two of My Morning Jacket’s most prominent features; Tom Blankenship shredding his guitar parts and Jim James incessant howling.
Victory Dance by My Morning Jacket
As ‘Victory Dance’ came to a close, MMJ continued with the same sequence off of their most recent album, playing the title-track ‘Circuital.’ While their most recent album doesn’t seem to stand up to some of their earlier studio releases; it is difficult to discern new tracks from their older material live as a new life is injected to each track from their enigmatic performances. This band did after all gain most of their reputation from their live shows.The amount of energy that is poured into their concerts is tremendous and the crowd certainly seemed to pick up on it from the get-go. Fans were on their feet and enthusiasm was through the roof for this concert. It seemed as if many traveled in for this show; just adding to the countless numbers of tourists in New York’s Midtown.
After running through a handful of newer songs; My Morning Jacket seemingly switched into greatest hits mode, much to the delight of everybody. An entire horn section was brought in during ‘Dancefloors’ which remained on stage for several tracks and added new layers to the already multi-dimensional sound. Fans were treated to lengthy takes on older classics such as ‘Golden,’ ‘Mahgeetah,’ and ‘Dondante.’ It was also refreshing to see the band integrate more recent tracks off of 2008’s Evil Urges with a stellar sequence of ‘Smokin from Shootin’ to ‘Run Thru’ to ‘Touch Me I’m Going to Scream (Part II).’
The hits continued to come with very little time wasted between songs; this was clearly a band on a mission that night. After the briefest intermission possible, Jim James returned to the stage solo for an acoustic rendition of ‘Bermuda Highway’ with the rest of the band slowly joining in. Throughout the encore several guests emerged; starting with a flautist for a cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle,’ and continuing with a full horns section for a rocking take of ‘Black Metal.’ From there; My Morning Jacket went into full rock mode with ‘One Big Holiday.’ Guitar solos seemed to be swirling around the arena throughout the entire night; but at no point more so than this track. The holiday spirit continued as Band of Horses were invited to share the stage on ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas.’
The entire performance had a very special feel to it; and the energy was as high as one could possibly imagine all throughout. This year-ending performance certainly points to why this band continues to be one of the premier live acts in music today and hopefully for years to come. Fortunately for New Yorkers, the wait won’t be too long before My Morning Jacket takes the stage again; they’ll be at the legendary Carnegie Hall on January 7th helping the Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrate their 50th Anniversary in what’s sure to be another memorable night and great start to 2012.
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb