From time to time, I am approached by music fans who ask me the easiest question to answer. Who is the best live band performing today? The simple answer is My Morning Jacket.
Who? You might say. Exactly. This band reminds me of The Who in their hey day. Blazing guitars, pounding drums, maximum rhythm all add up to a powerful force that with the exception of no busted instruments nor hotel room antics, you’d think you were watching The Who in their prime. My Morning Jacket’s 2008 4 hour Bonnaroo show in the pouring rain remains one of legend.
MMJ, as their growing base of fans attest, is a tightly niche group out of the musical hot bed Louisville, Kentucky (sarcastic). They have released six studio albums with the most recent being “Circuital” in 2011. The band found its collective chops, as they say, in 2002 when drummer Patrick Hallahan joined the band. His impact was heard immediately on their indie breakthrough album the following year called “”It Still Moves.” An album so rooted in Americana Rock and Rolla that it inspired a classic book on the genre by Amanda Petrusich. (The book that took its title from the album remains a must read for any fan of American music.)
But back to the Jacket. It’s hard to believe I’m four paragraphs into a conversation about MMJ and I haven’t even mentioned Jim James. He would appreciate that. As strong of a rock performer on stage that there is today, James remains an enigma of the limelight. Contributing on many different levels as a song writer of high order yet willing to take a back seat when the art of music is in the balance as his work with numerous other artists confer- including his work with M. Ward (of She & Him) Conner Oberst and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes). James’ powerful falsetto is in peak form and he seems to realize it by staying on tour constantly while his voice remains a touchstone to concert rock gods of the past.
A friend of mine recently saw Robert Plant on tour resurrecting many of the Led Zeppelin classics. His reaction was that Plant still possessed one the classic voices in the annals of rock yet couldn’t quite hit the high notes anymore. That’s when I said “that’s exactly why you need to see My Morning Jacket now.” Jim James is slaying the notes while playing the dual role of master guitar god. As of now he is Plant and Page.
So where does the uninitiated start? Well you have two chances to catch James this year in Colorado. His full band will be part of a unique one off tour called AmericanaRama. The gig takes place at Fiddlers Green in Englewood on July 30th and features another leading candidate for best band alive in WIlco -plus the requisite Bob Dylan sighting. Furthermore James takes his only slightly turned down solo band to Telluride in September as part of the Blues and BBQ festival. And those of you looking for a mid winter sun break can book a spot in Cancun as the band does a rather unique hotel stay for four nights in January.
For those of you unable to secure tickets or take off to Mexico to see these memorable performances, there is the VH1 Storytellers performance on demand that doesn’t quite gather full steam so I’d recommend a listening session with the band’s two powerhouse albums. The aforementioned “It Still Moves” and “Z.”