Critical Fandom for the Blogosphere "Pop music has for decades possessed the power to transport the human spirit and to serve as a vehicle for the transcendence that we seek." --Bill Friskics-Warren


Jacketastic Still: I am ready to testify after Ogden night two

While I am generally skeptical of competition and comparisons and generalizations and platitudes, I am about to lay them down plain and simple. And while I hate to break it to the fans of other bands, I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is My Morning Jacket.

As students of great rock themselves, the Jacket channel their classic influences in a spiritual, non-derivative way. They are rock stars in terms of theatrics but not pretension or ego. We can hear the echoes of Radiohead, Neil Young, Lynard Skynard, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and so many more.

On stage in strange costumes, Jim James holds court like a science-fiction action-figure protagonist carrying his band of brothers into ever more majestic and mystic moments of pure sonic poetry. This is what rock and roll was supposed to be in their bedrooms when they were fourteen and as it has been engraved on the souls of teenage air-guitarists everywhere. No-fucking wonder Cameron Crowe put them in a movie playing “Freebird.” Because that filmmaker appreciates the mix tape of the soul like few others in Hollywood, as evidenced by the story of Almost Famous and the cheesy but priceless ending of Elizabethtown.

To experience it in such intimacy two nights in a row is profound. To tell of its cinematic and religious qualities is point others to the sounds. But of course this means that the career should take these guys to the next level next time—which means I must cherish this closeness and ineffable camaraderie now. Someday they may hold stadiums rapt, and I can only pray they keep the same playful seriousness in tact. Meanwhile, mainstream radio ignores them, so we know it is through the albums and the shows, the internet and places like the theatrical screenings of Okonokos that we can gather like a tribe, each of us wearing the morning jacket of his or her choice.

In the last few years, I've seen the Flaming Lips, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Coldplay, U2, Scissor Sisters, the Killers, the Mars Volta, the Black Angels, the Black Keys, a wide array of awesome people at the 'roo from Bonnie Raitt to Radiohead to Matisyahu and many more, too many to name.

Over the years, I've seen a serious catalog of live rock shows including acts as diverse as Rush, the Stones, REM, the Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Grateful Dead, Operation Ivy, Fugazi, the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Kiss, GWAR, you get the idea. Too many to name, truly.

And frankly, and honestly, and I can only say this heartfully after Denver MMJ for two nights, I've rarely seen a band put on a live show like the Jacket. Best live band on the planet right now.

Best old school rock band of our time. Great by any standards. Big words, yes, and deserving of them this band is.

Wildly, they're still relatively underground. I mean, I still can't get over how cozy the venues they sell out are. With 5 albums behind them, these late twenty-somethings are the music fringe's best kept secret, even after owning a share of what the American rock festival means from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza and many of the smaller festivals and on and on.

Who plays 2 hours or more every night? Who switches the setlist every night? While some nights are mirrors, at least one song will inevitably change. But the two-night stand in Denver shares with the fans some otherworldly shape-shifting ecstasy much like I imagine the multiple nights at the Filmore were.

I don't wish to rag on other hard-working acts, but the serious, traveling fans are paying your freaking bills for heaven's sake! Give us some love, give us some variety, stop settling for 70-minute sets produced every night on auto-pilot.

The Jacket have set a new standard for nailing each song as if the earth depended on it and playing each show as if it were their last. Other bands, please take some notes.

The crossover appeal to jam band fans everywhere should not be understated, but it should not be misrepresented or misinterpreted either. The Jacket groks the integrity of the song and gives its live rendition the space to breathe, but not the space to grow like mold into boring, self-referential, cock-rocking whateverland. They take us to the outer galaxies and back, sure. Yes, they can sustain a musical thought for more than ten minutes, and they can get tweaky and freaky and geeky in the most gifted manner. But they return to rock's mission statement in a way that's both refreshing and chilling, understanding a vocation to write and perform rock songs—not to randomly splash sounds on the sonic canvas.

MMJ has something so sincere to offer, frothing with showmanship but not showing off. I love how tight and completely communal the shows are now, but I imagine bigger things for these deserving guys. It's not a secret I can keep. If you love rock and roll and everything you thought it had lost through thirty years of shitty sell-out commercialism, go see the Jacket. At this point, I could confess, that asking me about this band would be like asking a nun about Jesus.


Hair on the Bear

This is Anu and Viva last night at the second My Morning Jacket show at the Ogden Theatre.

At the end of Golden, I threw my golden wig to the stage. I got a knowing, amused look from Two-Tone Tommy. A song or two later, the hard-working stage tech took the goldilocks mop and placed it on the bear's head. Looking for a picture of my hair on the bear.


Soaked in Reverb & Second-Hand Reefer Smoke: My Morning Jacket at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, night one

At 620 pm, we started the car and started scraping snow. On the road from Lafayette by 630pm. By 710, we're driving through the slippery streets of downtown Denver. God! the blackened piles of snow in the parking lots resemble the mountains in these parts.

Found parking on the street and walked quickly through the surreal chill. By 730pm, we're inside the Ogden. My, this place is small—and basically empty now, even so close to show time. I visit the coat check and get a PBR for only $4 (the cost of a sixpack of PBR, but still, a pretty cheap beer for a show). Rocky (my stepson) and I find a place by the first railing, just above the small section of front floor (the entire lower level being separated by tiers).

(My wife and anticipated date for the night is home with her daughter-in-law-to-be, nursing a cold and waiting on tomorrow night, when all four of us will check out the show.)

We debate about getting right up front, but this spot we found has such an incredible sight line and expected sound, that we decide to stay there. At this point, having only see 'em at the Ryman and the 'roo, I am still utterly shocked by both the small size of the venue and the sparse crowd so close to curtain. Are people just fashionably late or intimidated by the weather? Either way, I'm grateful for the generally mellow and not-too-crowded vibes.

Just after 8, Elvis Perkins and his band take the crowded stage. Speaking the pure language of what's come to be known as freak folk (and reminding me of Dylan, Nick Drake, and Devandra Banhart), this group grooves with acoustic guitar, harmonica, stand-up bass, trombone, and an antique marching-band bass drum. Center stage, there's also something strange and sounding from the keyboard family that my limited knowledge and vocabulary cannot surely name, perhaps a close relative to the concertina, squeezebox, or harmonium. Given the story that they got stranded on the way to Salt Lake and missed last night's show and how utterly tiny the crowd still is at this point, this ensemble puts on an emotive and playful set, only making me wish I'd made myself more familiar with their stuff before tonight.

Elvis Perkins and people exited the stage around 845pm. By this time, the club finally started to feel full, and during the break, more people came in from the cold. But, compared to some shows, it was still really easy to move around and get to the bathroom and bar and back in plenty of time for the buildup to lights down and jacket up. Around, 925pm, the place went black, the old-school pre-show music filled the room, and the Jacket was with us. “One Big Holiday” proves the perfect opener, and we're off.

The show had many breathtaking, mind-stretching moments. When Jim's pipes climbed to the high, high notes at the end of “Wordless Chorus,” the “weeowoohwah” or whatever-it-is-so-angelic-and-eerie-that he does struck itself inside my soul. He finds a similar synthesis of soul-soothing and spirit-shocking inside “It Beats For You.”

Just as Jim finds such elusive epiphanies with his vocal yoga, the band bends its own massive metaphors when channeling the classic-rock gods—as in the spacier, harder, longer, let's-not-call-them-jam-band-moments of tracks like “Lay Low,” “Run Thru,” Steam Engine,” and “Mahgeetah.”

As good as it is in such a small room with such great sound and friendly folks heating up a hideously chilly night, there's something just a little off about it all. Our bassist Two Tone Tommy needs a chair to sit for a few tracks and seems generally woozy or grumpy or something. In general, the whole band has an end-of-the-leg leeriness about it, an understandable “We just risked our lives getting here, and we're tired as fuck” mood.

In one of his few moments of speechifying between songs, Jim referred directly to the death-defying drives, of trusting the tour bus driver to face the snow drifts safely. He also mentioned a flu in the whole crew, suggesting that no-one kiss the band-members tonight.

When we think about the 115 minute set in the context of how utterly whipped they all must be, we can understand how heroic they still are in spite of it, giving 200% for the fans who risked as much just getting there, too.

Our family member reverb can be defined as “the acoustic environment that surrounds a sound.” One very cold Colorado Friday night, the Ogden Theatre patrons were soaked in sacred reverb and smoked-out by second-hand reefer fumes. By the end of the show, I could loosen my scarf and feel the heat of: Carl and Jim's dueling guitars; Patrick's cymbal-riffs rocketing through my head; Tommy's bass bad-assedly thumping my third-eye; and Bo's bopping keyboard cool keeping it soulful and real.

The show lacked any cover songs and several favorites we might wish for tomorrow tonight, when I expect they'll mix it up just a little and play longer, as Jim made more than one remark to those he expected to see two nights in a row.

Setlist (please forgive and correct any errors):

  1. One Big Holiday

  2. What a Wonderful Man

  3. Gideon

  4. The Way That He Sings

  5. Wordless Chorus

  6. Lay Low

  7. Phone Went West

  8. Off the Record

  9. It Beats for You

  10. Golden

  11. Dondante

  12. Run Thru

  13. They Ran


  1. Bermuda Highway

  2. Knot Comes Loose

  3. Steam Engine

  4. Mahgeetah

  5. Anytime

photo by Anu


Zero Degrees and Waiting

This week, we traveled to Denver to visit family and friends—but also to catch the last two nights on My Morning Jacket's winter tour that included three larger-than-life nights to ring in the New Year in San Francisco.

My people here assure me that recent Colorado winters have not been so severe, but now that I'm experiencing the bone-chilling temperatures and colossal piles of snow first-hand, a part of me cannot help exclaiming inside “What were you thinking!?!?!” Checking the weather has become ritual, and now that Friday has arrived, we have temperatures around zero. Last night, there were flurries in the air, and another dusting is expected tonight. This report from last night's Jacket show in Salt Lake City deal directly with the snow:

Many a band would have used the day-long snowstorm Thursday to duck out on a potentially disastrous show in Salt Lake City to assure their arrival for two sold-out gigs in Denver. But My Morning Jacket proved yet again that they are far from typical with an epic performance at The Depot.
The quintet lost its opening band on the way to Zion, and weren't sure if much of a crowd would show, but My Morning Jacket found much more than a packed room when they arrived at the venue Thursday. They found the inspiration to deliver a deadly, energetic set that will surely increase the positive word-of-mouth they deserve before their next visit. [. . .]
Who: My Morning Jacket When: Thursday Where: The Depot, Salt Lake City The Bottom Line: The Louisville rock act braved a blizzard to deliver two hours of far-reaching rock.”

( )

The last time I attended a General Admission gig (the Killers in Philadelphia, about a month ago), the weather was so mild that we were able to come early and line-up outside for a prime space inside. Tonight, we won't have that luxury, but I'm hoping others will only show up when the doors open as well. As on the moment as the MMJ online forum is, there's no place we can look online to confirm that the tour bus has made safe passage from Utah to the parking spot closest to the Ogden Theatre's stage door.

When I was very young, my brother, Dad, and I attended a KISS concert at the Cleveland Coliseum. We had only been able to score rear-stage, obstructed-view seats. But the night of the show, a monstrous blizzard hit. Surprisingly, a lot of people stayed home but the show went on. We 'upgraded' to incredible seats and had an awesome, ear-bleeding time. A rock fan was born inside my 11-year-old body that night. The obsession for going to shows would follow me to middle age. Tonight, I can only hope that the Jacket are like KISS and that the fans are like we were in the respect that despite the snow, the show must go on.

Seattle gig Photo by Gregory A. Perez from


Confirmed: Jacket Fanatic

Photo by Angela Prazza from

Back in the day (as in 1988), I resented it when people called me a Deadhead. While I still enjoy the music that the Dead made and have an honest respect for the nomads who lived on the road with them, my musical tastes and social demeanor never could fit the jammed-out pigeon hole.

Those who dubbed me a “peace punk” were perhaps closer to the mark, but really, there's no musicological page in the vast backpack of rock fandom on which to scribble my story. Rather, I'll fill notebooks until the day I die with sonic testimonials and still feel restless and unsatisfied with any singular label. One tag is too limiting, but multiple, meandering, effusive lists of combinations and revelations, well, that's another thing entirely. Which brings us to the Jacket, My Morning Jacket—the Kentucky-based, ass-kicking, reverb-breathing answer to my rock-and-roll prayers.

Jim James, Patrick Hallahan, Two-Tone Tommy, Carl Broemel, and Bo Koster—this quintessential quintet consistently justify the bushel of adjectives and elusive epiphanies that critics regularly harvest off an imaginary Kentucky farm to describe them. “Spontaneous, spacey, soulful” says August Brown in the Los Angeles Times.

Writing in the rival LA Weekly, and previewing a recent southern California show, Scott T. Sterling nails it like a Carl Broemel guitar riff: “What’s the story, morning glory? Jam bands not only got cool while you weren’t paying attention, they got good — really good, in the case of Louisville sluggers My Morning Jacket. The truest missing link between Coachella and Bonnaroo, MMJ pile on the reverb for headphone fiends but never lose sight of the song, no matter how far afield their telepathically tight improvisation takes them. It’s no surprise that their last album, Okonokos, was a live one, bordering on the epic majesty they’re known for creating in the flesh. If Phish were the Grateful Dead, Part 2, MMJ are the actual evolution, Jerry’s revenge in the form of an outfit wise enough to take sonic mind expansion and genuine musicianship to that hallowed next level. These fellas are an honest band for scarily dishonest times. Reality — what a concept.”

So, while I was much too young to really claim the Dead as my own—although I was privileged to see them twice with Jerry in 1987 and 1988—and frankly, I never could get behind the post-Dead delirium that coalesced around Phish and Widespread Panic. But my Kentucky neighbors and the veritable Bonnaroo house band combine a fierce, falsetto-driven, melodic edginess that belongs to popular alt-rock with a brain-bending blitzkrieg of banger blessings that only the heads with headphones understand. And you can dance to it.

When the breakthrough album Z pierced me to the core, the upbeat whiteboy funkiness of “Off the Record” struck my soul as inspired by the dervish-spinning nature of devotees always on tour. This Dead-meets-disco spirit comes fully realized on the recent New Year's Eve tapes—originally broadcast on the radio and available for download from archive-dot-org—where covers of Kool and the Gang's “Celebration” and Lionel Richie's “All Night Long” ushered in 2007.

This week, when the post-holiday, winter blues should have me buried, I'm instead anticipating two Jacket shows in Denver like Christmas morning. To be continued.


Best Records of 2006!

Yes, I know that "best of" lists are ubiquitous--yet ambiguous and ridiculous at best.

Who cares what records I wasted money buying or time downloading and actually loving this year?

But I read movie and music lists incessantly, so why not share my own? So, here are my faves from a calendar year when my collecting was particularly prolific.

  1. Tool—10,000 Days

  2. The Killers—Sam's Town

  3. Red Hot Chili Peppers—Stadium Arcadium

  4. Black Angels—Jerusalem

  5. My Morning Jacket—Okonokos

  6. The Flaming Lips—At War with the Mystics

  7. TV On the Radio—Return to Cookie Mountain

  8. Michael Franti & Spearhead—Yell Fire!

  9. Ben Harper—Both Sides of the Gun

  10. Gnarls Barkley—St. Elsewhere

  11. The Black Keys—Magic Potion

  12. Scissor Sisters—Ta Dah

  13. The Strokes—First Impressions of Earth

  14. Snow Patrol—Eyes Open

  15. Thom Yorke—The Eraser

  16. Espers—Espers II

  17. Damien Rice—9

  18. Sean Lennon—Friendly Fire

  19. Goldfrapp—Supernature

  20. Matisyahu—Youth

  21. Cold War Kids—Robbers & Cowards

  22. Bruce Springsteen—We Shall Overcome: the Seeger Sessions

  23. Keane—Under the Iron Sea

  24. Wolfmother—Wolfmother

  25. Pearl Jam—Pearl Jam

  26. Cat Power—The Greatest

  27. Dresden Dolls—Yes, Virginia

  28. Peaches—Impeach My Bush

  29. The Rapture—Pieces of the People We Love

  30. Raconteurs—Broken Boy Soldiers

  31. Sonic Youth—Rather Ripped

  32. Richard Ashcroft—Keys to the World

  33. Chumbawamba—A Singsong and a Scrap

  34. Belle and Sebastian—The Life Pursuit

  35. Silversun Pickups—Carnavas

  36. Muse—Black Holes & Revelations

  37. The Mars Volta—Amputechture

  38. Beck—Information

  39. Live—Songs from Black Mountain

  40. The Alarm—Under Attack