My Morning Jacket: Three torrid hours at the Mann

Posted: August 25, 2011

Opening for a band that draws seven or eight times as many people as you do seems like a no-brainer. After all, if you win over just a quarter of the crowd, you've more than doubled your draw in this particular market.

The downside is that nobody shows up for the opening act at a rock show. Never has, never will. Tuesday night at the Mann Center was no exception. Neko Case opened for My Morning Jacket and delivered a game but faintly glum set to mostly empty seats - too bad, because she is worthy of a capacity crowd.

Those seats were completely filled with stubbly, red-eyed young men, and the women who go to concerts with them, by the time My Morning Jacket took the stage and kick-started a sweaty, ebullient, three-hour hoedown of Southern-fried beard-rock, soul power, and even a little reggae carpetbaggery.

Ten years on, the band's star continues to rise. The last time through it played Penn's Landing, and before that the TLA, and the days when it played the Khyber are many beards ago, back before the truce between indie rock and Jam Band Nation was declared at the Bonnaroo Line. The reason is simple: Live, My Morning Jacket is an unstoppable force of nature.

Fronted by the irrepressible Jim James - fuzzy-faced, Buddha-bellied, rocking a cape and a Cousin Itt haircut, whirling about the stage dervishly with a towel over his head - MMJ made it abundantly clear that they were playing for keeps, slathering bruising he-man riffage and bombastic beats with ethereal harmonies, sounding as if Lynyrd Skynyrd had swallowed Big Star whole.

"Smokin' From Shootin' " was epic, something-to-write-home-about stuff. "Phone Went West" was positively apostolic. "Highly Suspicious" was all crazy-sexy Princely funk on the verses and skull-splitting, Flying V-fired axemanship on the choruses. "Golden" was just that, a reminder that it remains their greatest song.

Reverb has always been My Morning Jacket's best friend. Wednesday night it was practically a sixth band member, multiplying exponentially the cavernous overtones of the Mann's domed ceiling. When James opened his mouth to let loose one of those long, ghostly falsetto whoops that seem to stretch from here to eternity, you really began to get a sense of what infinity sounds like.

Still, there were a few wet firecrackers. "Holding On to Black Metal" never quite reached the satanic majesty its title promises, and a duet between Case and James on Tom Petty's "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" was not nearly as awesome as it sounds on paper. But by the time they got to the fist-pumping, show-closing "One Big Holiday," after nearly three hours of stomping on the terra, all that was soon forgotten.

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