BROOKLYN, NY—There are certain things I never tire of: Cheez-Its. Snuggles from my Dachshund. My Morning Jacket shows. One of any of these things is never enough, especially when it comes to the band of genre-bending rockers with fantastic hair. This is why my boyfriend and I trekked from New Jersey to Williamsburg Park on a perfectly cloudy Sunday to see them for our third time this summer.
The first stop on our summer My Morning Jacket tour was a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky—the band’s hometown—for the Forecastle Festival, which they headlined and “curated” by partly planning the festival and its lineup. Their hometown show was, as we expected, a delightful pinnacle of energy played to a ravenous crowd. Next was the Newport Folk Festival, where we were treated to a mellower version of their usual blisteringly loud set—a style that felt as suitable in its quiet(er) poignancy as it does when the band rocks and wails.
Finally, in Brooklyn, we anticipated yet another side of My Morning Jacket: a show from its Spontaneous Curation Series tour. The premise of this tour is that fans help create each night’s setlist by suggesting songs via Twitter and the band’s forum (where voting battles rage for weeks in advance of each show). The band picks its choices based on superlatives like “best flow” and “most requested.” This is a genius tour concept for a band like My Morning Jacket, whose albums over their 13-year history are equally diverse in sound and equally loved amongst fans.
On this particular evening, the pre-show anticipation was greater than usual. From my spot on the rail, I excitedly awaited the band’s entrance, hoping they would play the song I requested for the opener. We were surrounded by an interesting assortment of 20-somethings like me, middle-aged adults, and even a family with their two very young boys decked out in ear-protecting headphones. Then, like mystical titans, My Morning Jacket emerged onto the stage bathed in blue light and fog. Bandleader Jim James, smiling and clad in a royal blue cape, clasped his hands and bowed at the cheering crowd.
They opened with “The Dark,” a random but opener-worthy track off of their first album, The Tennessee Fire. I instantly basked in the infectious energy around me and didn’t mind one bit that my suggestion wasn’t picked as the opener. What followed in the next two and a half hours was a journey through the depths of the Jacket—never knowing what would come next, and loving every moment of it.
“Lay Low” featured frenetic riffs by James and fellow guitarist Carl Broemel, who took turns shredding in the spotlight and headbanged in unison. The band added an edge to another song from The Tennessee Fire, “War Begun.” James treated the formerly subdued song to an extended, electrified guitar solo. The entire band seemed oriented toward the “spontaneous” element of the tour. They jammed more than usual, especially on the long, haunting “Dondante.” The band’s latest album, Circuital, didn’t go ignored, either—a handful of songs from the album made it on to the setlist, like “Holdin’ On To Black Metal” and “Victory Dance.” Those dramatic, arena-sized songs were a perfect fit for an outdoors summer concert.
Jim James also wowed us with his hallmark trait, a soaring voice that is godlike in its power and range. He sustained his immense vocal ability through songs like “Gideon,” “It’s About Twilight Now” (a rarely-played gem that fans on the forum enthusiastically voted for), and “Wordless Chorus.” Even the five-year-old perched nearby upon his father’s shoulders and fist-pumped the air when James hit the notes at the opening of “Run Thru.” Another highlight of the set was the first song of the encore, “I Will Be There When You Die,” a beautiful rarity that James sang alone on stage.
At the end of the night, My Morning Jacket played songs from each one of their albums, as well as two covers—George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity,” featuring guest Dean Wareham on vocals and guitar, and Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.” I left feeling completely satisfied: Not only had they played great songs from across their catalogue, they’d done it with endless energy that showed off, yet again, the band’s deep integrity.