Even before My Morning Jacket took the stage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta last Friday, lead singer Jim James reinforced the mission of real, raw folk rock.
James made an appearance while Band of Horses carried the crowd through the opening act, adding saxophone to the band’s mellow sound and country-rock rhythm. The jazzy sax tunes seemed to give the band a new energy, and the musicians took from each other as much as they gave in pure jam-session style. James left the stage, and Band of Horses lead singer Benjamin Bridwell handled the awe-inspiring experience with humility and subtle irony as he said, “Tyler Ramsey, everybody!” adding laughter to the already erupting applause. Ramsey, the band’s lead guitarist, humbly shook his head and laughed even louder.
The entire concert was a haven for creative discussion, a true conversation among musicians who want nothing more than to give their talent selflessly and in the most meaningful way. Jim James provided his own expression to the talented Band of Horses, allowing them the opportunity to embrace possibility in their already solidly talented sound. James embodied that same desire for innovative exploration of pure musical energy when he took the stage with his own band that night.
The group from Louisville, Ky. has been performing together since their formation in 1998 and the release of their debut album, ‘The Tennessee Fire,’ in 1999. Since then, the band has released five more studio albums, three live albums, four compilations and one live concert DVD. My Morning Jacket has graced the late night stages of David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon, and the festival stages of Coachella, Bonnaroo, SXSW, Hangout and more. Their many years of onstage experience have allowed them to continuously perfect their sound and dynamic, and the results Saturday were mesmerizing.
MMJ eased into their first set with two of their more poppy tracks, ‘Lay Low’ and ‘First Light’, to lift the crowd into the scintillating title track of their most recent album, ‘Circuital’. James’ powerful and comforting vocals almost tangibly filled the venue as he let the melodic and multi-layered song travel endlessly over the crowd. The subtly piercing repetitions of plucked guitar strings built upon themselves over and over, audibly illustrating the lyrics: “Well anyway you cut it / we’re just spinning round / Out on the circuits / over the hollow grounds”. The music seemed to propel itself from there, slipping seamlessly from haunting, psychedelic tracks like ‘Strangulation’ and ‘Cobra’ to the rhythmic chords of ‘Phone Went West’ and ‘Steam Engine’, delving into the more country tunes of songs like ‘Outta My System’ and ‘Magheetah’.
MMJ’s versatility shone throughout the first set, and their southern rock background blended with their progressive and often hypnotizing melodies. James seemed to surrender any control over the sound with fully outstretched arms whenever drummer Patrick Hallahan or guitarist Carl Broemel offered their own invigorating support.
Both Band of Horses and My Morning Jacket punctuated the session’s heavy emphasis on open collaboration and creative donation when Bridwell returned to the stage to play guitar towards the end of the first set. The entire show was brought full circle, and even when MMJ finished the second set with powerful and progressive country rock anthem ‘One Big Holiday’, the concert never seemed to end.