Bit by snake, or actual snake?
My Morning Jacket
Download: “Off The Record”
Two hours before, I sat in Bar/None watching the Sixers, listening to my friend Assman tell me about My Morning Jacket at Bonnaroo. “Listen, I know you call them My Morning Jackoff. But Bonnaroo–it was different. They had these huge puppets. They had a giraffe, it was like, eight feet tall. They had a dinosaur. It was like, ten feet tall. Ten foot six. I bought so many t-shirts.” I like the new record plenty–really, the only one of theirs I like, because the shit before–“Southern druggy rock” by Assman affiliate Jimmy’s estimation–shot for Skynyrd, CSN, whatever, and came out sounding like those three Dave Matthews Band songs that even Dave fans, with enough prodding (riffing), will admit they don’t actually like.
My Boring Jamkit played a good deal of pre-Z at Webster, but the big news–the great news–is this: With Z these guys officially have jam-not-jam band status, that cosmopolitan super-ambitious stadium rock sound that (unlike Coldplay) plays hard enough to afford itself some noodling, something of a low-budget Flaming Lips, though better than the Flaming Lips because (a) tickets are cheaper, (b) Flaming Lips never had dinosaurs at Bonnaroo, and (c) I don’t really like the Flaming Lips anyway.
With cosmopolitanism comes a bit of identity squashing. MMJ have forfeited a bit of their Southern twang on record, and live those gestures of disguise seem doubled up: The band begins their show in total darkness, their Jesus hair and Weird Al-lookalike drummer and flannel shirts only known to previous eyes, and the soaring chorus of that song, “Wordless Chorus,” is (in fact) wordless, a gorgeous melody that doesn’t betray a locale. “Gideon” begins with sun-soaked guitar arpeggios reminiscent of Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun, and I’d carp “Coldplay Pt. 2” except live the song does get to those mountainous proportions it needs to for a song so lumbering to take effect. “Off the Record” rips Hawaii Five-O at first, then the band turns its cheekiness into a wonderfully pompous shout before mellowing out into extended noodling and bringing the big shout back and up again. The drum machine on “Lay Low” and the round-synth keyboard playing on “Anytime” pretty much seal the Flaming Lips deal, reminiscent of any number of Yoshimi tracks before MMJ laid on the mesquite thick–perhaps the band’s most on-the-fence tracks w/r/t Southern vs. Cosmo. Stage banter is non-existent, but they still play on Persian carpets, dig.
Obviously I’m thrilled about the music/ambition metamorphosis; more so, people who think rock music only happens in sporting arenas, who need rock to be that big hulking monster that changes their life not by charm but by sheer force, have so much to love now in My Morning Jacket. Most so, the band’s tech guy wore a Slayer shirt, made all the better when he carried out onto stage one of those V-shaped guitars that rockstars use.
As for the older fans though, the Assmans and Jimmys and Whoevers who admit to missing the more tender, Wilco-ier MMJ moments, I have no idea, but perhaps these two anecdotes might mean something to you. The first: After the show, on 5th Street between Aves A and B, Assman and I saw two guys jump out of a van wearing camouflage head-to-toe (including camouflage hats). They opened the back of the van, and then methodically unloaded not one, or two, but three dead deer, carrying them into the basement of a building.
The second involves Times music critic Ben Ratliff taking notes next to me at the show, and Assman asking Ratliff if he could see his notebook: “My notebook? No, I don’t let anyone see my notebook.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 2005