July 31, 2015
What is it about the Carolina moon in July? Last year in July, during an inspired show by Beck, he mentioned the moon several times during his set at Charlotte’s Uptown Amphitheater. So Wednesday night brought Jim James and My Morning Jacket to the same venue, with more shout outs to the same moon glowing in the eastern sky. Jim James spoke to the crowd sparingly throughout the night. Five songs into their 20-song set he took a quick break to welcome us to “this beautiful moonlit night”. “Look at the moon! They sure knew what they were doing when they made the moon”.
I will say that the moon and the night sky were remarkably similar to that Beck show from one year ago. Whatever it is and whomever made it, it inspired another fantastic show from a national indie band. Perhaps it was fitting that they began the evening with Wordless Chorus, giving Jim ample opportunity to yelp and howl out to that moonlit sky.
For the last 18 years My Morning Jacket has quietly built a brilliant catalog of music and a loyal group of fans to match. I was immediately struck by the vast age variance of the crowd. Middle-aged couples and twenty-something hipsters filled the Charlotte amphitheater in close to equal numbers to see a band with minimal hit songs and even less top 40 radio airplay. Hell, of the couple of dozen that I gave mention to this show, probably half knew of the band and fewer still were familiar with any of their songs. However, that could be more of an embarrassing indication of folks I choose to associate with and their inability to recognize or search out good music. Perhaps it’s me but, I digress.
The lighting was used primarily to create multi-colored zig zags across the stage. There were rarely any spotlights directly on band members, leaving them partially in the shadows throughout the show. That didn’t stop James from donning dark-shaded glasses. His long locks of hair, further blocking his face, glowing in colored light and being blown around wildly by a floor fan, gave him the look of mad scientist out of a bad B movie.
Their latest album, The Waterfall, was featured throughout the night. After starting with three songs from earlier records, In It’s Infancy (The Waterfall) began the first of six songs from their latest release. All of the new material was well received and fit in nicely with the rest of the set list. Nearly every other song, however, was immediately recognized by the crowd and garnered enthusiastic cheers and singalongs. Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, from opening band Lucius, were brought out for back up work on two songs early in the first set (Wonderful (The Way I Feel) and The Waterfall’s Like a River).
For a band that I don’t necessarily associate with guitar, that instrument was at center stage all night. It could be one reason why their shows have become so popular and perhaps more accessible to casual music listeners than some of their records. James and Carl Broemel both take turns shredding at different points. With James hunched over his Gibson Flying V, hair flying through the light and shadows, I had to remind myself that this was not a ‘70s coliseum rock band. He even pulls out some of Eddie Van Halen tricks, picking high on the neck of his guitar, during Big Decisions.
The most emotional song of the evening was Dondante, a Song from Z, written about Jim James’ lifelong friend who committed suicide. If you would like to hear his explanation of how personal a song it is to him I would suggest watching the Storytellers performance on YouTube. It begins slowly with dreamy singing and wails from James and builds into an all out jam featuring multiple guitar and organ solos and a saxophone solo by Broemel. I can’t tell you exactly how long the jam lasted. I can tell you that a man close to me left mid-jam for a bathroom break and arrived back with it still going strong. Yes, James left the stage briefly near the end of the song for a quick “hello” to his lost friend, as is his ritual.
For the first three songs of a four song encore, Lucius joins the band, adding harmony and playing percussion on free standing drums. One Big Holiday from It Still Moves closed the night with Jim and Carl grabbing sticks and banging away on the drums left behind by Lucius. After a quick goodnight and bow from the band and Charlotte is left with a great night of music ringing in our ears and a moon to guide us home