My Morning Jacket, as seen through a designer-pot haze. [CREDIT]
My Morning Jacket
Friday, June 20
Radio City Music Hall
With the springtime relocation of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James from the blue hills of Kentucky to Chelsea, their gone-in-twenty-minutes show at Radio City Music Hall might be considered a homecoming of sorts. But down at Bonnaroo—where the band has headlined the Tennessee festival four years straight—they whipped out celebratory covers of Sly and the Family Stone, Bobby Womack, Kool and the Gang, the Velvet Underground, Funkadelic, and Erykah Badu. Here, James pulled no such tricks for his new hometown.
Instead, from the syncopated merriment of Moondog’s “Stomping Ground” that ushered the band onstage (and simultaneously paid tribute to Sixth Avenue’s most-revered beardo) till the dying note of “One Big Holiday,” the only “cover” the Radio City crowd over the course of the not-quite-three-hour show got was Jacket. And more Jacket. And his new neighbors stood and rocked in the carpeted aisles from the start till the end.
Frontloaded with the sleeker, more stadium-friendly songs from Evil Urges and Z, the band tore through the title track with aplomb and blinding lights, James firmly and comfortably in the upper register of his range. He was also comfortable in his new spacious confines, using the runways on each side of Radio City’s stage as well as the gilded balconies, where James ran to take a good deal of his extended solos.
For all of their inroads made on the jam scene and the Dave Matthews crowd, the band is decidedly straight-ahead when it comes to presenting their catalog live, with few of the jammy digressions and breakdowns that mire such long sets of similarly-cast bands. On Evil Urges, they’ve inexplicably (and successfully) recast the otherwise cringeworthy aspects of soft-rock, with strains of James Taylor, Eddie Rabbit, Kenny Loggins, Bread, and Seals & Crofts (more on display than their funk covers) commingling with their Allman-esque hard rock. Recent numbers like “Sec Walkin’” and “Thank You, Too” sound as if they wafted over from some lost AM radio station. And yet, it was only when the band dipped deeper into their back-catalog that their velocity and energy noticeably lagged.
On Evil Urges, James’s lyrics often touching on the soul-body divide and at times the stage lights exemplified that same conflict. During “Gideon” off of Z, red spotlights fired from above, while blinding white lights arose from the floor, heaven and hell visible, but inverted, while “Smoking From Shooting” he sings about the river that “chills the body but not the soul.”
Torn between the urges of the flesh and that of the spiritual, James sounds already like a New Yorker, checking out sexy librarians and lovers of any color and creed on “Evil Urges,” yet trying to get to yoga class on time. He spoke from the stage about his breathing exercises, imagining that his head was “a cotton-candy machine at the fair.” Recalling how he saw Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, on this very stage, James sounds audibly giddy about standing on the same stage as such royalty, disbelieving that he himself has ascended to such heights.
“New York City, a land of possibility,” James zealously exclaims, talking then about “the spirits we try to breathe in.” He certainly must mean the stench of designer pot that’s wafted from the red-carpet floor up to the vaulted ceiling the entire duration of the show. “Sometimes I walk around town looking at faces/ Wondering why their bodies go to silly places,” he intoned on “Bermuda Highway,” an old song written far from the Big Apple. But when James sings about the demon eyes that watch his every step, that sounds exactly like something from the land of New York.