In a recent interview, My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster said the band has some 90 songs at its disposal. He talked about how when the group recently played a three-night stand in Mexico, it didn’t repeat a single song. That automatically elevates the Louisville-based band to classic rock status and is particularly impressive when you consider most bands will play the same 20 or so songs night after night. In a particularly loud show last night before a capacity crowd at the State Theatre, My Morning Jacket showed just how deep it can dig into its catalog and just how skilled it’s become at creating a wall of sound.
Led by big-voiced singer-guitarist Jim James, the band started performing behind a giant white screen as it launched into “Believe (Nobody Knows),” the proggy opening number from its latest album, The Waterfall. With its upper-register vocals, the song sounded a bit like a leftover Yes tune from the ’70s. Not that James in any way physically resembled Yes singer Jon Anderson. Wearing shades for the entire two-hour concert, the bearded, long-haired singer looked more like Jim Morrison as he sauntered across the stage in a black jacket imprinted with some colorful psychedelic swirls.
As a vocalist, James has few rivals. Throughout the set, which featured about 20 tunes, he regularly showed his range, adopting a gravelly baritone for the final notes of “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” and slipping into a soulful croon for the ballads “Knot Comes Loose” and “Lowdown,” the latter of which could pass as a slow dance tune at a prom — not that there’s anything wrong with that. With the stage cast in dark blue lights, “Master Plan” sounded particularly vigorous as the band cranked up the guitars and broke into a vigorous jam at the song’s conclusion. Likewise, “Dondante,” the set’s closing number, had the epic feel of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” as the song, set to the pace of a waltz, started slow and finished strong with a jam that included some wailing saxophone riffs.
The encore included an acoustic rendition of “Hillside Song,” a Dylan-esque number that once again allowed James to show off his vocal prowess. His crisp vocals silenced the audience and provided a nice bit of respite from the deafening loud electric guitar-oriented rawk that the band had just defiantly laid down. One quibble — the dimly lit stage and the lack of any real banter (outside of acknowledging that playing in Cleveland was “a real treat” since Koster is a native, James rarely engaged the audience) — kept the band at a bit of a distance from the worshipful patrons, most of whom were on their feet for the entire concert. Hard-hitting drummer Patrick Hallahan, who is a real wonder to watch, by the way, was often more engaging than James and would encourage fans to clap along to the tunes. A little more explicit enthusiasm from James would've gone a long way.