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.