My Morning Jacket did everything they could to bust loose from the confines of the Keller Auditorium last Wednesday night and, in the process, proved something we already may have known: My Morning Jacket’s live performances are too big to be confined to indoor spaces.
There, it’s been said. Not that they don’t sound good in an enclosed area, it’s just that their powerful and brazen sonancy erupts with such vivaciousness that, at times, its vibrations are no longer bouncing off the walls so much as they are pushing against them trying to break free.
On Wednesday, September 30, MMJ's incredible performance at Portland’s Keller Auditorium showed just how true this notion could be. If you look at MMJ’s current tour venues, you will notice that they seem to be booking mostly indoor theaters for their current The Waterfall Tour. The assumption is that they want to take advantage of the pitch-perfect, architecturally designed theaters to showcase Jim James’ beautiful voice and wrap listeners' heads in their swarming guitars and thunderous drums—but in the process, they have proven that their sound has grown too big for the confines of sit-down theaters.
Opening with the title track off their highly regarded 2011 album Circuital, Jim James and Co. quickly had the floor and balconies on their feet with the song's spaced-out buildup of dueling guitar and piano, crescendoing with James’ ethereal voice reaching deep into the upper balconies. It was the beginning of a loud, amplified show that had a wonderful mix of powerful ballads and tamed, daydream-like rockers.
The most dominant songs came in the form of older tracks such as “Evil Urges,” “Wordless Chorus,” “Off the Record,” and an extremely uplifting version of “I’m Amazed.” They came scattered throughout the night and were heavily sandwiched between tracks off their latest release, The Waterfall. In fact, seven of the 21-song set list came from their newest album—check out the complete list.
For the most part, The Waterfalls' tracks are beautiful arrangements of James’ voice, Carl Broemel’s guitars, the delicate thumping of Patrick Hallahan’s drums, and alluring interplay between Tom Blankenship’s bass and Bo Koster’s finger work on the keys, but they all carry a subdued softness compared to albums such as Evil Urges and Z. Live, My Morning Jacket only seemed restrained during tracks from The Waterfall, and after fairly calm renditions of The Waterfalls’ “Get The Point” and “Tropics (Erase Traces),” MMJ launched into a boisterous version of "Master Plan" off their 2003 record It Still Moves. Starting with a simple drumbeat and James' voice lifting you up into the clouds, Broemel’s guitar swooned and swirled finally sparking an all-out assault on the crowd as he absolutely torched everyone in the orchestra-level seats. It was one of the many climaxes of the night that truly showed My Morning Jacket pushing the limits of the Keller's acoustics as opposed to walking in unison with them.
The real highlights, however, came during their powerful encore as MMJ absolutely unleashed a trio of hits in “Victory Dance,” “Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2” and “One Big Holiday.” Returning to the stage with the eccentricity of their unhinged opening call, “Victory Dance” was quick to remind everyone why My Morning Jacket is so beloved by fans of live music. Its build is so palatable and pure and unassuming, leading up to quite possibly the mother of all rock bass drops from Blankenship—again, proof that walls just weren’t meant to keep MMJ boxed in. The same went for what some say is their best live track, “Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2.” With its slow buildup to the racing chorus, it took listeners on a journey far beyond anything an indoor venue allows.
With sound so spacial and dimensional, confining My Morning Jacket only convolutes their music in listeners' minds and ears—this isn’t a complaint per se, just an indication that some bands are best heard in free, open spaces.