My first experience with My Morning Jacket was during a drive into the Sierra mountains, after a year at college. A friend had the Split EP and played it on the stereo as we drove north from Los Angeles in my mangled ‘84 Toyota pickup. Listening to a song like Come Closer at a time like that, when imagination is at its peak and no emotional armor has yet been built against love, it’s impossible for a band to not get under your skin. When I hear that song today the lines, “Oh soldier you look so strong, who held you that you fought so long?” still grip what’s left of my shriveled, black heart.
“Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed.” The way that Paris changed for Hemingway My Morning Jacket has in a smaller way changed for me since that trip to the Sierras in late 2002. Nine years later the band has become something completely different. For some people it’s probably better - it certainly is for Jim James and his bandmates. They’ve made it. But in the same way that Modest Mouse began to change after the Moon and Antarctica, there is something unknowable missing. A spirit that cannot be resurrected.
However, experience teaches you that this is the way of the world. A band creates its own universe and then proceeds to seem to become a paler version of itself as time goes on. As new fans begin to discover them that universe becomes diluted. Disappointed, most of the original fans move on to fresh meat (fans are carnivores after all). Other things happen in the band - original members move on and so what was once a quirky, iconic sound begins to sound more and more like many other bands. Additionally, once the band realizes it can actually make a career out of playing music changes occur which no artist will admit to. Attempting to please the audience is only one symptom.
My Morning Jacket has been through all these changes and more and come out on the other side of it usually able to sound fresh and interesting, which is no small feat and surely a testament to the fact that Jim James still knows how to write a song. Despite their success they have also managed to retain their humanity by doing things like playing for free on Tuesday, June 21st to benefit the world’s hippest public radio station, KCRW. L.A.’s KCRW is home of legendary radio show Morning Becomes Eclectic and has been instrumental in making the careers of bands like My Morning Jacket.
The live show took place at the legendary recording studio The Village, which if you’ve read the liner notes to any album recorded in the past 30 years there is a 50/50 chance of it having been recorded there. The 250 person audience, all of whom had paid $125 per ticket, was mostly part of the LA gentry. Their idea of double fisting was a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle of purified water in the other. They also had an incredibly annoying habit of stepping on your shoes while dancing and then giving each other very involved back rubs. Something bad happens to you when you get older and have money.
The music was entertaining and Jim James proved himself to be a consummate entertainer. His trademark voice was on full display. In the hands of anyone else the songs, mostly off the new record Circuital, might seem relatively pedestrian, but the high lonesome sound of James’ vocals imbues the music with an ethereal aura that can’t be ignored. Like Billie Holiday or Bill Monroe singing the simplest of songs and making them legendary, with My Morning Jacket the song is in the voice.
You will be able to hear that voice and the entire My Morning Jacket concert on July 15th if you set your radio dial to 89.9FM in Los Angeles or tune your Internet browser to KCRW’s website.
SETLIST: My Morning Jacket at The Village Studios, West L.A., June 21, 2011
The Day is Coming
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Outta My System
Holdin’ on to Black Metal
You Wanna Freak Out
Slow Slow Tune
Smokin” From Shootin”
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt.2
One Big Holiday
I Will Sing