With his unmistakable voice and theatric stage presence‚ it's clear that My Morning Jacket is nothing without Jim James. But the real question is whether Jim James is anything without MMJ. Well‚ fuck yeah he is. Personally I've been so enamored with the sonic implications of James' solo debut that I hadn't paid much attention to the lyrics on Regions of Light and Sound and God. So when a friend commented pre-show that James seems to really love himself some Jesus‚ I was a little surprised. In hindsight‚ God is right there in the album title so I probably need to pay a little more attention. But despite my infatuation with the neo-soul grooves of his music‚ I was still totally ready to be taken to church on this Tuesday night.
Since this gig came on the tail end of James' tour‚ the room was pretty well prepared for the game-plan: a full run-through of the album and then an encore of some select MMJ hits. But it turns out knowing what song was to come next would have no effect on the thrill of the moment at this show. The 38-minute album was expanded out to a 90-minute set‚ sending each tune into an exploratory stretch of psychedelic dream lands that proved to be nothing short of completely enchanting. While the tail-end of the album drags in my opinion‚ hearing tunes like "All is Forgiven" and "God's Love to Deliver" fully fleshed out in the live setting gave me a whole new perspective on their power. The band may have been different‚ but the forceful magic of Kentucky electricity was still in full effect.
The biggest surprise of the evening came at the encore. Rather than dropping one of the massive MMJ songs he had been busting out‚ James opted for "Movin Away‚" the delicate ballad that closes 2011's Circuital. Things would only get tamer from there. The six-song encore basically became a test of wills‚ as every time you were hoping for something big to appear‚ another boring track from the Monsters of Folk record would start up. There were four in all‚ each a little bit more disappointing than the last. Even if you dug that record (which I did not)‚ you couldn't help feeling that the show had taken an odd turn. And capping it off was "Changing World‚" one of the cuts off last year's Woodie Guthrie tribute. Talk about flipping the script. This concert went from being one of most electrifying things I had seen all year‚ to being one of the most mundane performances I've stood through in some time. Sure‚ give it up to James for having such a diverse catalog of music to choose from‚ but it essentially felt like a completely different band took the stage for the encore. The dragging close didn't fully damper my appreciation for the gig‚ but if I had left before it occurred I probably would have utterly raved about this show. Chalk this one up to the less is more pile.