Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Morning Jacket at the Pantages, 6/22/11

Fantastic. Amazing. Mind-blowing. Heart-stopping. Earth-moving. Really not too bad at all. The superlatives seem kind of redundant after a while when trying to describe a band like My Morning Jacket's live show. That's not to say that the impact is less than before (well, maybe just a little, but there can only be one first time), just that talking about it eventually and necessarily devolves from coherent statements into enthusiastic but formless vocalizations, or even just a widening of the eyes. Naturally, that's not gonna stop me from trying.

Ok, maybe I won't go on too much, except to say that their show at the Pantages last week, the eighth time I've seen them, easily landed in the upper half of my personal list. Playing with a focus that's mirrored on their great new record Circuital (one they must be very proud of, since we got all ten tracks), Jim James and company picked their spots carefully, jam-wise, and consistently kept the notoriously chatty LA concertgoers enthralled for almost two and a half hours. As a tireless defender of their previous effort Evil Urges, I was a little disappointed we didn't get a couple more selections from that one, but deep cuts like "Lay Low" and especially the early era classic "The Bear" made up for it. And, sacrilege though it may be, I was actually happy to get a break from "Dondante."

So I don't come to try to put words to what the people in attendance know could only really be felt, but instead to offer a brief eulogy to the glory days of James' amazing voice.

Before you get all defensive about this, hear me out. If you were to only listen to the records you would never notice the change, and I don't even think that's a studio trick; plenty of time to rest and get the perfect take can make a lot of difference. But his pipes just aren't equipped for all the touring anymore, and I can’t remember a show since the Z tour where he was the precision weapon he was back in the day. It’s weird too, in that it sounds to me like his normal tone is still great, and he can still belt the high parts and the screams, but if he tries to go straight through from the bottom he hits a snag somewhere along the way.

Being both a passionate singer and a professional, James alternates between just going for it and singing around his new limitations, and it never really sounds bad, but those of us who saw them six years ago can absolutely hear the difference. "Wordless Chorus" is a perfect example: when they first started playing that song on tour, his ability to duplicate and even surpass the high notes from the chorus was just about the most incredible singing I'd ever seen. Nowadays, he has to rein it in, giving it a halting feel that differs from the recorded version and the one in our memories. Perhaps cruelest of all is that Okonokos, the classic live album that was recorded on the Z tour, features James while he battles a cold, making him sound more like he does today than the remarkable instrument he was at the time.

Look, I'm not criticizing the guy, or even complaining--as I said, this show was one of my favorites--but it is a shame that time has started to catch up to his golden cords. So I say all this with a heavy heart, but also in awe and admiration that he was ever able to do the things he could do, and that I was lucky enough to be there.

Set List: Victory Dance / Circuital / The Day is Coming / Wordless Chorus / Off the Record / Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2 / First Light / You Wanna Freak Out / The Bear / Wonderful (The Way I Feel) / Outta My System / Lay Low / I'm Amazed / Slow Slow Tune / Movin' Away / Carried Away (Carl Broemel solo song) / Gideon / Holdin' on to Black Metal / Anytime / One Big Holiday

Encore: Steam Engine / Smokin' from Shootin' / End of Run Thru / Mahgeetah

Photos by Timothy Norris, LA Weekly

1 comment:

Robert's Neighbor said...

Fair enough Brian Hatfield, fair enough. BUT! Eulogies are for dead things and I still think we just caught a worn out voice, not one that is totally kaput! And yes, I know that is basically what you said...BUT! It's not dead! Just tired...