But first, it’s worth mentioning opener, local singer-songwriter and Northplatte Records co-founder Joshua James—the only local to play the series this season. Backed by a seasoned group of some of Utah’s best musicians, James showed off his knack for penning an evocative turn of phrase and story in a new, crunchier variety of rock for the bard -- brushing the folkie label off his dusty acoustic guitar and picking up a hollow body with some serious ampage. The set was filled with new material, teases for his forthcoming, Richard Swift-produced album.
But when he played “Coal War”—the intro track on Build Me This, which made it on as the intro tune on the season premiere of Sons of Anarchy fall 2011 -- the local crowd went wild. “We’re from American Fork! ... Fuck yeah!” James screamed, showing his local colors (although he hails from Nebraska, originally). James held the stage with grand presence and a stunning display of craftsmanship. My prediction is that with his new album, he’ll easily best Utah scones and fry sauce as the best thing to come out of the Beehive State in a long time.
Jim James, wearing something like a banana-republic-general's jacket draped over his shoulders like a cloak, greeted the audience with salutes before he picked up his Flying V guitar to play the opening notes of “Evil Urges” over a groovin’ drumbeat. Singing the chorus -- ”Evil urges, baby, they’re part of the human way/ It ain’t evil, baby, if ya ain’t hurtin’ anybody” -- set the theme for many this Thursday evening. The tune was cranked up and rollicking when compared to the studio version -- My Morning Jacket never strays away from unfolding solo upon solo in a rock-out jam -- an effort that was received with many a fist pumps from the crowd. After all, they, the crowd, are the ones -- at least members of the fan club Roll Call -- who picked the opener.
“Curating spontaneously is best achieved by communication within a community, because otherwise, curating in a vacuum can lead one to spontaneously combust,” wrote My Morning Jacket on their website. For the Spontaneous Curation Series this tour, members of the band’s fan club, Roll Call, pick the opening tune each night, and audience members at large will “curate” the encore via Twitter.
The audience could have picked any song from the band’s entire catalog of six studio albums and rarities. And while there probably were some disgruntled fans at first for their song not being selected, the Kentucky five-piece did a fine job of spreading out and digging deep into their canon.
James lost the cloak as he ran back and forth across the stage for the next tune, and one of the best of the night, “Off the Record” (from Z). As James traded licks with Carl Broemel, flailing hair seemed to be second only to the searing guitar riffs. I was reminded of the hair-ful and amazing performance at 2004 Bonnarroo Music Festival, where I caught the band for the first time (although “Off the Record” had not been released yet). No matter the venue, or at their various developmental stages and personnel changes, My Morning Jacket owns the stage they play on.
With the boys rocking in full force, they played over an hour's worth of songs. Some of the set highlights included “Outta My System” (from Circuital, an album that harkens back to the Southerners early songwriting of roots rock) and “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” and “Phone Went West (from At Dawn).
James let his stage presence and rock & roll moves speak for themselves, as he rarely engaged with the crowd between songs, although he spoke this gem: “It’s been way too long since we felt the power of Salt Lake City.” And that power, in a sense, was on display as the crowd flipped out with a bevy -- seriously, tons -- of airborne glow sticks during “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” (from Evil Urges). From my viewing area, there was a huge flag -- I think American ...or Confederate, possibly, girls on their boyfriends shoulders, a heart-shaped balloon -- all of it in front of My Morning Jacket’s brand-new and badass light show. The tune got an even bigger kick when said light show shot powerful LED laser beams -- friggin’ laser beams -- into the audience and Pioneer Park at large. The set was rounded out with “Mahgeetah” (from It Still Moves) -- if you have any doubts about how awesome that song is, read the definition of mahgeetah at UrbanDictionary.com.
The SLC audience totally came through huge by selecting a killer encore. “Victory Dance” was followed by "Wordless Chours" with “One Big Holiday” ending the evening -- possibly the band’s best song and, at least, the best song of the evening.
All photos by Dom Darling