Menu ▲

My Morning Jacket at the Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on April 9, 2012

What does an iPhone’s ringtone, the Windows start-up sound effect and Jim James’s voice have in common? One is the unescapable sound of modern smartphone technology, one is the smug signal of your desktop sounding the start of another day of mindless drudgery in the office and one is the instantly recognisable calling card of a group that has breathed new life into that most tired of music clich├ęs – the indie rock band.

Since their debut album The Tennessee Fire came out in 1999, the five musicians from Louisville, Kentucky, that comprise My Morning Jacket have set about redefining the indie rock aesthetic, while prompting a whole new generation of torrent-downloading hipsters to shore up credibility by adding Neil Young, Tim Buckley and the Beach Boys to their list of ‘I’ve always been into these guys’ artists. While MMJ embrace these influences and owe a lot to other Southern rock and psychedelic groups (read Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Doors) they have also managed that most difficult of tasks in modern rock: developing a unique sound. The stylistic palette across their six albums spanning their career so far is astonishingly varied and eclectic, traversing country folk, garage rock, blissfully harmonised summer pop, dreamy psychedelic ballads and good ‘ol, foot-stomping, Southern rock.

To my eternal regret I missed seeing these guys on their last visit to Australia in 2009, when they played the Big Day Out festival tour and did sideshows with the stellar support acts Gomez and Dr Dog. This time around, as MMJ visit the country in the wake of the release of their sixth album Circuital in 2011, I was not going to make the same mistake. Over the last decade the band has built a reputation as one of the best live rock acts going around and they didn’t disappoint with this two-hour set that mined the rich melodic seams running throughout the It Still Moves, Z and Evil Urges albums. It’d be tempting to point to Jim James’s soaring voice as the foundation of MMJ’s appeal. After all, the man really knows how to get the most out of reverb and produce a rich, full vocal that will hit the sweet spots of any venue, big or small. But the band is so much more than just a backing group. The rhythm section of ‘Two Tone’ Tommy Blankenship (bass) and Patrick Hallahan (drums) provided the musical backbone of the concert, contributing subtle touches in quieter moments and muscling up the sound in the many extended breakdown and outro sections. Equally as important as Jim James’s impressively versatile lead vocals and rhythm guitar was the lead guitar of Carl Broemel, a solo artist in his own right, whose ripping licks recalled the best of the ’70s Southern rock epitomised by Lynyrd Skynyrd and showed just how much a slide guitar can add to a song.

One of the joys of seeing any band play is getting to experience the difference live performance can make to a song, as distinct from its record version. This was particularly evident in the band’s renditions of ‘Mahgeetah’, ‘Off the Record’ and ‘Gideon’, whose slow-burn build into a soaring climactic final chorus was one of the many epic highlights of the set. Not many bands in a live setting can convincingly segue from the disco weirdness of ‘Touch me I’m going to scream Pt. 2’, replete with Jim James in a Darth Vader-like cape with a digital sampler hanging around his neck, to the simple folk ballad of ‘Wonderful (the way I feel). It’s this extraordinary ability to effortlessly switch between disparate styles that both defines MMJ as one of the leading American indie rock groups and sets them apart as a band unconstrained by any artificial limits of genre and impervious to simple categorisation. Take them any way you want but just make sure you see these guys live, it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Leave a Reply