My Morning Jacket
The Green at Shelburne Museum,
Ben & Jerry's Concerts on the Green 2017
July 12, 2017
More impressive in their sound than in their songs, My Morning Jacket
nevertheless redeemed themselves by the end of roughly two hours on stage on The Green at Shelburne Museum. The Kentucky quintet reaffirmed their solidarity as a band with a furious close to a single extended set plagued to so some degree by the material Jim James & co. chose to play.
When last in Vermont, at The Midway Lawn at the Champlain Valley Exposition in 2010, there was a definite sense MMJ needed to incorporate fresh material in their concert presentations and perhaps even retire some warhorses like "Barrooms" and "Mageetah," that had served them so well on an ever-increasing rise to fame (the group is now proud recipient of multiple Grammy nominations).
Great credit where credit is due the band for taking that courageous step in the interim, but the Ben & Jerry- sponsored Higher Ground show on this overcast breezy night reaffirmed the notion that titular leader Jim James' predilection to experiment stylistically, in the group context and as a solo artist, dilutes his creative output, to the point numbers like "First Light:" and "Xmas Curtain" lack passion and craft.
As an unfortunate result of that shortfall, the better part of the performance had little impact until "Wonderful," which in its own relatively quiet way, worked as an effective change of pace by which My Morning Jacket gained some traction. "Circuital" and "(In Its Infancy) The Waterfall," had done little to rouse an ever-expanding crowd expanding at the time: even as James' sought to command attention through the forced eccentricity of his repartee with an audience clearly eager to dance, he was little more successful than openers Jaw Gems.
Yet even if many of the tunes didn't hit home, the sound of the band did, even when, as on the opening "Steam Engine," they sounded like an implausible cross between early Lynyrd Skynyrd and vintage Pink Floyd
(hence Carl Broemel's repeated use of saxophone instead of electric guitar). The low rumble of Tom Blankenship's muscular bass lines came through as clearly as the booming bass drum of Patrick Hallahan's kit and the sonic clarity was clear in the upper registers too: Bo Koster's multiple keyboard sounds were all as distinct from each other as the guitars of James and Broemel.
And that near-tactile element, combined with the increasingly feverish intensity of the ensemble's playing, made this what My Morning Jacket show worth going to. The encore was a five-song sequence in which the band went all the way back to At Dawn
(Darla, 2001) ("Phone Went West") to Evil Urges
(ATO, 2008) ("Touch Me I"m Going to Scream Pt. 1") Z
(ATO, 2005) ("Wordless Chorus") and the pinnacle of their discography It Still Moves
(ATO, 2003) ("Run Thru"), following "Victory Dance" as the formal set closer; such a conventional approach at one point seemed anathema to this group (around the time of their 2005 appearance at Higher Ground), but it certainly served the purpose of lighting up more of the crowd in a way many of the preceding tunes threatened to but did not. Not surprisingly, the flow of concertgoers exiting the grounds slowed markedly by this point
Would that the pacing of the concert, including unfortunately short takes on tunes like "Outa My System" and "I'm Amazed," had led more purposefully to that rousing climax. Still, "all's well that ends well," right?.