By Paul Robicheau
The veteran band from Louisville, Kentucky, kicked into the millennium with a wild and woolly mix of Southern rock, alt-country, space-prog, and electro-funk that grew weirder over time.
My Morning Jacket remains an anomaly in 2022, in style and status. The veteran band from Louisville, Kentucky, kicked into the millennium with a wild and woolly mix of Southern rock, alt-country, space-prog, and electro-funk that grew weirder over time, matched by an increasingly sporadic history of recording and touring.
The band’s concert at Leader Bank Pavilion on Thursday marked its first Boston appearance in seven years. Sure, that includes the pandemic, which didn’t help secure a reception for 2021’s typically expansive, eponymous My Morning Jacket, the group’s first album of newly recorded material in six years. On a cool night at the 5,000-capacity harborside tent, there were plenty of empty rows in the back.
My Morning Jacket nonetheless made up for lost time, representing all nine of its studio albums across two-and-a-quarter hours — on a tour that changes up the song list every night in a way that can thrill diehards but leave the uninitiated with just a taste from the handful of what could be vaguely definable as MMJ’s “hits.” To be honest though, the group’s most popular songs haven’t always been their best, usually just opening tracks to albums where better material followed.
The quintet rocked in a blur of shaggy-haired headbanging and oblique, active backlights, a sonic and visual assault that emerged in an opening salvo of deep cuts “Wasted,” “Anytime” and “X-Mas Curtain” to both theatrical and obtuse effect. The sound and mood soon lightened with singer/guitarist Jim James’s openhearted positivity in the new “Lucky to Be Alive,” the acoustic-led nugget “Golden” (sweetened by guitar foil Carl Broemel’s pedal steel) and “I’m Amazed.” Songwriter James told the crowd of the meditative joy he found in walking the waterfront to rediscover his favorite local church, Our Lady of Good Voyage.
From there, MMJ again was off and running on its own crazy voyage with a tightly riffed “Complex” (capped by a recording of the new album’s slowed-down coda) and the funkily psychedelic “Holdin’ on to Black Metal.” The trip wound through the jaunty “Off the Record,” the swirling “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Part 2,” and the comparatively saccharine stretch of “Feel You” as songs predictably began in subdued territory and built to spacey jams that nodded to Pink Floyd. Coincidentally, MMJ served as Floyd architect Roger Waters’s backing band at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival.
Broemel’s dark slide oozed into “I Think I’m Going to Hell” (the night’s deepest track from 1999’s MMJ debut The Tennessee Fire) before he cued the teasing riff of “Run Thru,” a monster set-closer that recalled how Neil Young’s Crazy Horse would seal shows with “Cortez the Killer.” The crunch of Broemel’s and James’s intertwined guitars led to a fierce breakdown by powerhouse drummer Patrick Hallahan (raising his sticks with robotic jerks as if to mimic strobe lights), bassist Tom Blankenship, and Berklee-bred keyboardist Bo Koster. Then it all crashed to silence, only to be resurrected by that delicious, stuttered riff.
The encore began with the follow-up punch of “One Big Holiday,” the band’s best-known rave-up, from its hi-hat/bass throb and cycling guitar harmonies to full-on thrash. The pastoral prog of “Spring (Among the Living)” and electro-soul romp “Wordless Chorus” (where James worked his merry prairie howl under a mirror ball) seemed like an anticlimax after “One Big Holiday.” On the other hand, “Wordless Chorus” was likely a more recognizable, accessible tune to some in the audience. And on a night that shook the senses with mystery, majesty, and murk, that also made it a fitting bow.
Paul Robicheau served more than 20 years as contributing editor for music at the Improper Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He was also the founding arts editor of Boston Metro.