Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Morning Jacket – Roseland Ballroom – New York – Nov. 30th

Off the Record

It's hard to pinpoint just what kind of a band My Morning Jacket is. Are they an "indie" band? When they broke into the critics' hearts with 2003's It Still Moves, the Converse crowd was the first to pick up on them. Are they Skynyrd-style Southern good ol' boys? Their long hair and Louisville, Kentucky roots probably bring some bourbon and pickup trucks to the parking lot. Or are they a jamband? There were pervasive Phish t-shirts and the pungent odor of pot and patchouli at the show here.

My Morning Jacket, however, seems to cut across these prosaic designations and – with their increasingly tight performances and new live double album Okonokos – are cementing for themselves a reputation as a fanfuckingtastic live band.

Jim James (born James Olliges – so, no, his name [goddamn it!] isn't James James) is in firm control at the helm of the quintet and his uniquely resonant, cutting, and haunting voice is the band's hallmark. James stood before a wooly mammoth stuffed animal and, at another point, a grizzly bear (harkening back to the cover of Moves). He chose his personifications well: his wild, bushy hair headbanged to and fro all evening while he tore into his guitar, grabbed the microphone like prey, fanged out his lyrics, and stomped around in his skeleton Moon Boots.

When heard live, the lyrics teeter between tongue-in-cheek and outright boastful on songs like "Wordless Chorus," where James sings, "We are the innovators. They are the imitators." This doesn't exactly get it right; My Morning Jacket is a fusion band. They're not a paradigm shift, but rather a mishmash of genres. Patrick Hallahan's drumming is especially fast and vigorous and Two-Tone Tommy's bass pops wildly – at their best (ok, their very best) they remind of early Moon and Enwistle. Yet, it's impossible to put your finger on one particular element or style (except for James' signature voice). They may be the first Southern country indie rock jamband.

Their studio albums (particularly At Dawn, Moves, and their most recent, Z) are strong, but it seems they would best be served heeding the words of "Off the Record," which they smashed through at Roseland: "You've got to know that we will change and keep it off the record." Keep it off the record, MMJ, and keep kicking ass and taking numbers live. It still moves.