Based on their recent Boston appearance in staunch defiance of Hurricane Hanna‚ My Morning Jacket is the most thrilling rock band on the planet right now. Certainly they're close to the frenetic energy of The Who in their prime‚ and perhaps they're equally ambitious as well given the scope of frontman Jim James' latest material. Interwoven with selections from all phases of the band's discography over the course of two and a half hours‚ this performance was more than enough to allay any fears the group and its leader has lost their muse.
The most familiar sounding moments on their new album‚ Evil Urges‚ are also the only music credited to the entire band rather than its titular leader. "Breakdown" is part of the title track‚ the sound of a band spitting fire -- electric guitars thrashing and rhythm section kicking like pistons as the keyboards swirl dizzyingly all around -- and it was obviously placed early in the single set to make a statement: we are what we have always been and more‚ not less.
There are precious few other moments on Evil Urges that echo this hard rock interval‚ but plenty that did this Saturday night. "Aluminum Park" and "Smokin From Shooting" are clearly of a piece with vintage stuff like "Mahgeetah" and "One Big Holiday‚" and carefully placed as these tunes were through two and one half hours‚ the performance only gained drama within which the theatrical lighting served as accent‚ not an effect in itself.
Such galvanizing rock and roll that populated the 2003 album It Still Moves worked almost like segues into material from the new album. And precisely because James and Co. probed even more broadly into alien stylistic territory with this year's release‚ the similarly eclectic Z of 2005‚ containing "Off the Record" and "Wordless Chorus‚" makes the progression seem perfectly logical.
Nevertheless‚ while MMJ's earliest music may already be the true anomaly in the band's discography‚ James' own emotional investment in his performances cannot be denied or even questioned. Hearing him sing "I'm Amazed" suggests no one since Pete Townshend has generated such exciting genuine theater with his guitars (sans windmills) and further‚ that no rock singer since Roger Daltrey has learned to sing so deeply from the heart. And even when James dons a Dracula cape (?!) to cavort around the stage with such childlike glee‚ the rest of the band never truly becomes relegated to the background.
While guitarist and saxophonist (on an extended "Dondante") Carl Brome supplied punctuation and keyboardist Bo Koster the color and texture‚ bassist Tommy Two Tone and drummer Patrick Hallahan roared from the sound system to drown out the wind and rain; it was a sonic counterpart to their leader's mammoth stage presence and his gallant commendations to the audience that fully enabled him to win their hearts -- if he hadn't already.
Prince might take offense to James' tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Highly Suspicious " -- the single from Evil Urges that caused so much buzz prior to its release -- but it was testament to his comic sensibility that‚ combined with the rest of the massive crescendo of an encore through which he led the band and the ear-splitting acclamation it received‚ there's every reason to regard Jim James as a true eccentric genius.