When the lights dimmed to black and the parade of folks lined to the horizon of the Red Rocks Amphitheater caught notice all eyes immediately bolted to the stage. The iconic venue staged amongst gorgeous fountain formation stone of red was home to two nights of My Morning Jacket, one of Louisville’s finest rock bands that brought a crowd from all over the country flocking for this year’s rare appearance on August 2nd and 3rd.
As Jim James came to the mic amongst splashing cymbals and lightly billowing guitar his voice casually mimicked a medieval horn ballad as the band marched into “Victory Dance.” Lyrically poignant words echoing off the walls of red before the band joined in seamlessly leading into the verse, ‘hope to watch the victory dance in the evening’s setting sun,’ as the final lights of the day disappeared in the Denver skyline. It did seem like a victory dance for a band that after a 17-month hiatus could walk out on stage with so much electrifying energy, confidence, and a tight knit demeanor that lifted the crowd of 9,500 to max levels. The liveliness of all the band members was calculated and deliberate throughout the set as drummer, Patrick Hallahan swung about his thick, long, Viking-esque curls standing occasionally as he slayed the cymbals and signaled to the crowd throughout the drum thumping “Easy Morning Rebel,” with the strings turning to him in one cohesive unit.
The music kept up the tempo and the vibes throughout the set as James exclaimed “we are back……back in the birth canal of the universe….through the music we are all born again every time we come here,” before jumping into “War Begun,” and a finger hammering solo that kept pace for the majority of the song. The peacefully melodic tunes of “Golden,” silenced the crowd into a hypnotic state as guitarist Carl Broemel soothed the crowd on the pedal steel before the band lifted off into one of the nights most elaborate jams, “Dondante.” The dreamy tune spanned from slow ambient sections to Jim James barreling into high resonating vocals, heavy guitar-wielding licks, undulating smoke machines, and guitarist Broemel stepping into the role of saxophonist delivering a celestial echo of noise and talent throughout the 27-minute jam.
The band laid on the classics throughout the night serving up “Circuital,” “Lowdown,” “The Way that he Sings,” “Amazed,” and “Anytime,” before finishing off the night with a sensuous “Mahgeetah,” leaving the crowd in astonishment. The band was on point, outstanding, and exuded a rock heavy prowess that kept the crowd engaged in every aspect.
If the first night of MMJ’s two-day stint at Red Rocks was rock-heavy jams and space themes then the second night could almost be viewed as psychedelic with a hint of experimental, rock-licks with Beatles covers intertwined, oh and lights…a lot of great lights! The night prior James said there would be no repeats, so the list presented itself with many opportunities as to what was going to be brought out.
Starting off the with synthesizer thuds led into “Wordless Chorus,” as James yelped his ecstatic “whoops, and ah’s” with the crowd attempting to keep pace in response to his falsetto cries. Sporting his usual cape James slashed the cape to end “If You Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream Part 1” before breaking into a hummed jam of guitar and hi-hat leading into “Off the Record,” and a version that raved on an atmospheric jam with random guitar licks uplifting the crowd’s energy. The lights lit up the stage throughout the night bringing forth just another avenue of vitality for the band and crowd to play off of. “Gideon,” brought an intense eruption of lights and howls as James’ voice reverberated off the amphitheater’s walls in a synchronic fashion.
Whilst the band delved much more into their fourth studio album, Z, they also brought a good amount of songs from Evil Urges and The Waterfall. The harmonious “Holding on to Black Metal” highlighted the band’s tightness in harmony as well as Broemel’s ability to really lay into a solo as he bounced to and fro behind a head of hair. “Evil Urges,” brought a fast tempo, licks, in a circuitous manner before returning to James’ strident vocals.
It was the nights “Steam Engine” off of 2003’s It Still Moves album that took the cake for longest jam of the night at 27 minutes. A shiny disco ball showered the crowd with light specks throughout the jam that included power ballads, epic electronic trudging guitar sounds complimented by Bo Koster’s keys, as well as glimpses of James singing The Beatles, “Get Back and Bill Withers, “Lean on me.” The band also dove into a memorable version of “Phone Went West,” that started out with James wailing in an almost orgasmic whale cry style before jumping into the reggae-ish beat. It would only seem right to jump back in to the Beatles as the band cycled back to “Get back” this time adding lyrics from “Imagine” to the list while James was left to his own accords before the band rejoined to finish up the song with a mellow psychedelic style jam and a section that included the crowd following James along with “Hey Jude’s” iconic ‘na nahs’.
Ending with the powerful “One Big Holiday” polished off the band’s epic presence at Red Rocks for 2019 and their short-lived tour season for the year. Whatever energy they packed into these two shows seemed to be enough to continue to support and claim reverence to them being arguably one of the more diverse and eclectic rock/jam bands of the era. Two nights, two erratically different shows and a band of five that still knows how to rock the house.
Photos by Ryan Salm
Words by Trevor Husted