To record Circuital, the latest release from My Morning Jacket, the band spent their summer camped out in a Kentucky church gym turned recording studio. Guitarist Carl Broemel and bushy-haired lead singer Jim James insisted on improvising their solos on the spot for each take. It is a rare thing to have a studio album to try so deliberately to deliver the nuances of a live performance. Why all the effort to sound raw? Simply put, My Morning Jacket is known to give one of the best concert experiences available today.
At Tuesday night’s 250-person show put on by KCRW at the Village, a cramped recording studio that almost every musical act of the past 50 years, from the Stones to Streisand, has stumbled through, the band further cemented their reputation. With tickets costing $125 a piece, it might be hard to see the value of seeing the band at the Village over catching last night’s more affordable show at the larger Pantages Theater in Hollywood—even with a portion of that price going toward complimentary Kentucky whiskey that flowed freely throughout the set. The draw was intimacy, and it was worth every dollar.
After a brief introduction by DJ Jason Bentley the group launched in a 15-song set that was, for the most part, a run through of Circuital. With the new album’s 7-minute title track (which was slimmed down for the show but retained its power) James melds dour verses on life with the bright ringing of his acoustic guitar. The song slowly builds to a tremendous crash of cymbals and longhaired head banging, managing to hover just above chaos. This is room-filling rock, for sure, but in many ways My Morning Jacket’s songs remain restrained and brooding, even during upbeat hits like “Holding onto Black Metal” and “Outta My System.”
Few men, if any, can cut through the thumping rhythms of drummer Patrick Hallahan like James does. His wailing voice lends itself perfectly to the echo chamber, producing melodies that are both haunting and affirming in their intensity. Carl Broemel’s accompaniment on lap steel guitar adds another smoldering layer to James’ wandering vocals, like those found in “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)”.
The highlight, though, may have been their first song, “Victory Dance,” a gut-punching jam that ended with a barrage of guitar riffs sounding somewhere between Tom Morello and George Harrison. It was a bold pick for an opener, but one that managed to feel perfectly in tune with the crowd’s energy. This is a band that trusts their instincts and it shows.
It was odd to see a group known for its epic 4-hour run at Bonnaroo close a set in just over 75 minutes or, for that matter, perform in a venue small enough for fans to reach out and pluck a guitar string mid-solo. Yet they managed to play a show that probably sounded remarkably close, if not better, to what was recorded inside that humid Kentucky gym. Few bands can live up to the hype thrust upon them. My Morning Jacket does.
Photo by Jeremiah Garcia