My Morning Jacket’s 23-song set Friday night felt nothing short of a rock odyssey.
How could it not? As the lights dimmed on the nearly sold-out crowd covering every inch of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium floor, an overwhelming feeling of nervous excitement filled the venue. How would this sojourn start?
“Should I close my eyes and prophesize hoping maybe some day come?” questions lead singer Jim James as he greets the audience over a ringing guitar note on “Victory Dance.” The opener, which also serves as the intro song on the group’s 2011 Grammy-nominated album Circuital, establishes a sense of awe in the crowd. Guitars, drums, and bass rise together in volume until they clash on every side in a massive climax while James releases God-like yells into his reverberated microphone. This is just the first song.
What make My Morning Jacket such a special band isnot only its musical talent and tightness but its ability to be diverse without losing its sound as it strays into varying influences. The odyssey comparison fits because throughout the band’s set there are so many different songs working like acts or scenes in a play. A slow sweet mountain song that will end in whiskey-soaked guitar solos and breakdowns, and so on.
Early on they established their southern roots, reflective of the birthplace of the band in Louisville, Kentucky. After the psychedelic bounce of “Victory Dance” the group dove into the rock and jazz-fueled “First Light” as well as the southern rock inspired “I’m Amazed” and Circuital favorite “Outta My System.”
The setlist featured a perfect mix of new and old as the band dug deep into the vault with tracks like “At Dawn” from their 2001 release of the same name and “Heartbreakin Man” from their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire.
Throughout the night the group commanded the attention of the audience, whether they were serenading the crowd with gentle classics like “Golden” and “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” or tapping into their rock infused songs like “Off The Record” and a psych ridden breakdown on “It Beats For You” both from their breakthrough 2005 release Z.
It was easy to get lost in the glorious trancein middle part of the set, aided with a light show that beamed yellow and orange rays and at other times tinged black and purple. Regardless of the song choice, it is easy to recognize the chemistry shared between the group as the guitars of James and Carl Broemel weave in an out while being fed with the impeccable drumming of Patrick Hallahan, the keys of Bo Koster and the basslines provided by Tom Blankership. Though My Morning Jacket isn’t technically a jam band, they fit in so well in the jam scene due to the way they are able to feed off each other while offering different variations of set lists and songs each night.
After closing out the set with “Dondante,” “Mahgeetah” and the new album’s title track “Circuital,” the band didn’t just come out for an encore—they came out for Act II. It started with “Wordless Chorus” as the crowd sang along to the “Ahhs” and “Ooohs” lead by James in an angelic falsetto. After “The Day Is Coming” and a partial play of “Cobra,” the band set the night on fire with arguably their best two songs the psychedelic jazz-funk Circuital standout “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” and their nightly closing anthem “One Big Holiday.”
For one of the most anticipated end-of-the-year shows in San Francisco, My Morning Jacket did what they do every night: played one hell of a rock show. Having been taken through the motions for nearly three hours the crowd dispersed out of the doors of the auditorium clamoring about what had just taken place. It’s easy to say most in attendance left feeling nothing short of Golden.