It’s The way That He Sings – My Morning Jacket at Stage AE 10/8/11
If someone could figure out how to bottle the night, no one would drink anything else. There are so many flavors of night that every drinker would have something to declare their favorite. The darker ales of midnight would have a smoky flavor full of the full-bodied taste of promise and maybe an aftertaste of disappointment or loneliness. The lighter beers of twilight would have a dash of citrus to suggest fading sunlight with a lingering hint of nostalgia. Remembrance, remorse, and joy are the main ingredients of a night reflected.
As of yet, A Little Night Music bottling company has not been founded and Midnight Ale has not been bottled. However, My Morning Jacket may have the first couple of steps to figuring out the process of the fermentation of night into something drinkable. Jim James and the rest of the band mixed up a very strong cocktail of rock, reflection, and joy at Stage AE in Pittsburgh.
My Morning Jacket can conjure the night as easily as if they were spilling a cocktail into a tumbler. Jim’s spectacular voice and the adept styling of Two-Tone Tommy melded the still night of the Stage AE into a river of sound as potent as a drink and with the same effects of a hard shot of liquor.
Just like a good whiskey, “Victory Dance” started off smooth and burned all way down. The cymbal tick tick ticked away the complaints of Jim as if he was a disgusted worker questioning the wisdom of hard work in a soil that is openly hostile to his efforts. In the beginning of “Victory Dance” there are just a couple of mumblings and vague complaints represented by the piano notes bursting thru the stillness and monotony of the basseline. However, as the song progresses and the speaker incites the band with his observations of the impracticality of honest effort, the band acts as an agitated crowd and becomes more loud and violent while Jim continues to quietly use phrases such as “war,” “the meek inheriting the earth,” and “seeing things that ain’t come yet.” The band reacts to Jim’s calm and revolutionary words to work itself into a full-scale riot that crushes the audience in sound and fury. The band sounded like a war party gathering behind a charismatic speaker. No matter how violent the music gets, Jim’s calm voice stands above the ferocity and plainly states his complaints in increasingly bold statements. As Jim calmly questions, questions, and eventually chants the chorus of the song, the bass subtly becomes more agitated. Finally, as if the band is reacting to the anger hidden in Jim’s voice, the bassline frothed into a pounding torrent of noise and furious guitar. Underneath the discovered fury, Jim calmly repeated a mantra of hope to lead the band from a frantic drumming segue into Circuital.
My Morning Jacket kept the energy of “Victory Dance” throughout the cyclical, gleeful “Circuital,” a bouncing “Off the Record,” and a soaring “I’m Amazed.” The band slowed down their set to play their slower but no less epic songs. The outdoor stage of Stage AE had already shown that wide-open spaces suited My Morning Jacket’s expansive rock and I was also pleased that it suited the reverential “Gideon” splendidly.
Like good bourbon, “Gideon” is subtle in tone and is filled with a full-bodied melody that warms the body and moves the feet. With the majestic Pittsburgh skyline as a backdrop, Jim’s towering falsetto was one of a multitude of voices singing praises to the painted ceiling of the night sky. Jim’s wavering “Gideon!” echoed across the Allegheny River and back from The Incline as the audience cheered. Initially, “Gideon’s” layered guitar riff and soft drumming seemed to float behind Jim’s voice, quietly disappearing over the river. Throughout the song, the repetitiveness of the instrumentation recedes and becomes more prominent, emphasizing a phrase or overtaking Jim’s words at different points. However, just like a sip of bourbon, the initial cheerful taste of “Gideon” is replaced by bitterness. “Gideon’s” underlying anger floats to the surface through barely perceived lyrics. Jim’s falsetto is buried in the rest of the instruments and only phrases such as “we have become hated and feared for something we don’t want,” “Listen. Listen. Most of us believe that this is wrong,” and “ Religion! Should appeal to the hearts of the young” are perceptible in between bellows. The band’s subdued sound leads the audience to believe that the relaxing texture of the song is reflected on the lyrics but as more disturbing phrases are unearthed from the sonic content of the song, “Gideon” seems to evolve into a different song than the soft and tranquil tune that it started out as. Jim’s voice became more distressed and his bellows became screams as the irritation and wrath underneath the song finally shattered the peaceful façade supported by the instrumentation. In recognition of the change in tone, the band discarded their previous complexity and increased their volume to reflect Jim’s growing ferocity. As Jim screamed, the audience’s voice rose as one to mirror Jim’s voice and the band quickly moved behind the repeating guitar riff of Two-Tone Tommy. Like a warped church chorus, the entire venue wordlessly sang to the looming skyscrapers behind the stage as their words also bounced back to them, unheard by the glass windows and flat light of the city of the Pittsburgh.
After a solid set of crowd favorites, a ten minute jam featuring a saxophone, and even a rarity or two, My Morning Jacket concluded with their frequent set closer of “One Big Holiday.” After two hours of dancing, screaming, and fist pumping, the audience gave one last hurrah as the tension built with Tommy’s multiple hammer-ons. Like a cap popped on the first beer of a summer night, the pressure built and built until the thundering drums and Jim’s “Waking up, feeling good” was screamed back by hundreds of voices. The audience erupted in screams of joy, erratic dancing, and a sea of fists raised in the air as Jim hollered and thrashed on his Flying V. The band feverishly screamed through a guitar solo featuring Jim and Tommy and the audience rode the resulting ecstatic dual of guitars as if it were a wave. As Tommy peaked and the band fell back into the chorus of the song, it felt like a ripple had passed over the crowd, sweeping every face with a smile, a cheer, and an amazed sigh. My Morning Jacket exited the stage to smiles and the warm, overflowing joy that comes after experiencing a truly life changing night with friends or a particularly fine beer.
My Morning Jacket showed at Stage AE that they have complete control over the ingredients of the night. Like experienced bartenders, they can mix the feeling of the deep blue of the sky as the sun sets behind the silhouetted trees right behind the cold beer resting on the chair next to good friends or the bruised purple loneliness of a neon light shining on an empty barstool. They can easily blend the still quiet of a star-speckled sky with the awe-inspiring burst of the reddish-orange flare of the last light of day. My Morning Jacket serves top-shelf excitement, intoxicating rock and roll, and warm memories shaken well until the resulting mixture is the smoothest drink this side of the Mississippi.