"A New Life" and a New Sound for Jim James

Neil Krug
When Jim James was booked for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the day before the drop of his solo debut, he figured he'd be playing with The Roots--he just had no idea he'd be belting out his latest single with a 22-piece orchestra behind him.

See also: Ten Things We Hope To See During My Morning Jacket's Three Day Port Chester Run

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Ten Things We Hope To See During My Morning Jacket's Three Day Port Chester Run

Ryan Mastro
When My Morning Jacket play live, they tend to come off as an elemental force. They play three hours, paradoxically leaving you wanting more and leaving you absolutely spent. MMJ gives everything live, but also requires a lot of you, pulling you through blissed-out calms into twisting, peaking jams and one epically emotive chorus after another. They're live shows become a religious experience, where fans track recordings of each concert, or make pilgrimages cross-country to see MMJ's marathon sets at Bonnaroo, or at Madison Square Garden, or both. A rare feat.

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Live: My Morning Jacket Build A Better Classic Rock At Madison Square Garden

My Morning Jacket w/Band of Horses
Madison Square Garden
Wednesday, December 14

Better than: The other bands on the Bonnaroo roots-jam circuit.

I sometimes imagine the young Kentucky rock fan who would one day name himself Jim James surfing the internet in the late '90s (we called it surfing back then), searching for some Allman Brothers guitar tabs, and stumbling upon a message board debate about the perils of rockism and boomer nostalgia and dinosaurs who won't let the '70s go. I imagine James absorbing the ideas about not making "rock" the default genre idea, prejudices about pop and dance music and closed minds and closed ears. (You know the drill.) I imagine him nodding, taking it all in and deciding that they were all good points—but realizing that he still really liked guitar solos. The solution? He would use these ideas to build a better classic rock. This is a completely imaginary scenario, but it has worked out pretty well for him.

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Live: My Morning Jacket at Madison Square Garden, With MP3s

Download My Morning Jacket's entire New Year's Eve show here.

My Morning Jacket
Madison Square Garden
December 31, 2008

So My Morning Jacket isn't the new Grateful Dead. That was Phish. Except that Phish wasn't half as good as the Grateful Dead and only had about half a dozen great songs ("Wolfman's Brother," "Bouncing 'Round the Room," "Fee," and you have three others to fill in here, Phish phanatics. But Phish did sustain the Dead's lysergic lineage of giving liberal arts majors a common place to use their parents' money to wreck their brain cells, a place where Muthuselean guitar solos lasted long enough to memorize of the entire Torah in ancient Aramaic. It was a pretty fair trade, and most ersatz 4th Estatesmen hated Phish, like the Dead, so much that when they finally went belly-up five years ago, no one other than the gray-beards at Rolling Stone gave a fuck other than those offering up requisite lame jokes about patchouli, Birkenstocks, and hackie-sacks.

What they forget is that Phish, MMJ, the Dead, and their less original but perfectly serviceable peers like Widespread Panic, Tea Leaf Green, and Government Mule fill an important void. Namely that by their overt goofiness, refreshing lack of self-seriousness, and breathtaking musical chops, they channel the oft-ignored earth lesson of rock and roll: this shit is supposed to be fun. That's what Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, et.al understood, and what your favorite mustachioed Williamsburg-residing, Tyrolean-hatted, leather-jacketed trust fund babies usually forget, despite their Sarah Lawrence degrees and spontaneously generated Independent Croatian Ethnography Film Aesthetics majors.

Not to say that My Morning Jacket is necessarily better than Crystal Castles, or Crystal Stilts, or Crystal Antlers, or Billy Crystal--that's not the point. I'm just trying to explain why I flew all the way across the country from my sun-scarred home base of Los Angeles to attend My Morning Jacket's New Year's Eve Show at Madison Square Garden, and why the person sitting next to me flew in from Oakland, and why when Jim James asked the masses early on into the band's three-plus hour set how many of them were from out of state, the place degenerated into a deafening din. Like the Dead, My Morning Jacket are that sort of live band--the "you never know what kind of show you're going to get" type that inspires cross-country treks in search of transcendence from both the spectacle and the drug vultures skulking around the perimeter of Madison Square Garden mewling "Molly, doses, rolls." (By chance, if you're reading this, Molly-Doses-Roll man, I can be reached at passionweiss[nospam]gmail.com. I'm sorry I didn't take you up on your offer the other night; I was working and didn't think my editor would cotton to the four-word review, "I saw God, maaannn.")

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Live: My Morning Jacket at Radio City Hall

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.

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