Jim James Plays Solo Valentine's Day Show

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Jim James performed Valentine's Day at Louisville's Rathskeller / Photo Mark C. Austin
WRITTEN BY
Mat Herron

In case you were wondering, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James is single. But his heart is not.

And Sunday night at a sold-out, solo Valentine's Day show at the 400-capacity Rathskeller venue in his hometown of Louisville, KY, the rocker -- billed under his solo nom de tune Yim Yames -- dedicated a cover of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" to a mystery woman, "wherever she may be," he said.

Opened in 1907 in the basement of Louisville's Seelbach Hotel, the Rathskeller is a swanky place with ornate walls and a domed, grandeur ceiling, and it's where author F. Scott Fitzgerald regularly drank. Sunday's crowd arrived in snazzy cocktail attire, lending an air of romance to the rich, vintage, and exclusive feeling of the venue. Even if, like James, you arrived single, hopefully you didn't leave that way.

As he does when performing with My Morning Jacket, James, donning a burgundy suit and tie, switched between Omnichord and guitar, delivering 18 songs in his trademark wail -- including standout "Smokin From Shootin," from MMJ's latest album Evil Urges. There were plenty of emotional moments (a faithful cover of Bill Withers' "Just The Two of Us") and silly humor, too (praising "Madonna's 20 chart-topping singles" on "Anytime," from MMJ's breakout album Z).

"The Right Place," a barroom shuffle off the self-titled debut from James' supergroup Monsters Of Folk, shook the audience into hollers and celebratory yelps. Rowdy is rowdy, even in heels and bowties.

Oddly, James didn't play a single track from his 2009 EP of George Harrison covers, Tribute To..., but he hit a grand slam with The Tennessee Fire's treatise on love and mortality, "I Will Be There When You Die," backed by cousin and Louisville singer Bootsie Anne (she's enlisting James for her upcoming debut). He recast Z's explosive "What A Wonderful Man" as playful ode, and "Bermuda Highway," a gem from At Dawn, was a spirited sing-along.

Billed as an "Affair To Remember," the show capped a weekend of celebration for the release of the 10th and final Louisville Is For Lovers compilation founded by local artist John King. MMJ was one of the first bands to lend exclusive material to the release, and James acknowledged the milestone with two tracks: a decidedly non-ironic cover of Berlin's "Take My Breath Away," which appeared on the first volume in 2000, and this year's contribution, "Good Morning, Dove."

At one point, James drew applause when he asked the audience to show a little love for local independent record store ear X-tacy. The store, where MMJ performed last June, turns 25 in August and can't afford its rent. "There would be a black hole" if it closed, said the singer.

One of the night's most poignant moments came with "It Beats 4 U," a hazy track with big electric guitars on Z, but here reduced to acoustic guitar picking and James' ghostly falsetto. Lyrically, he transformed the tune into a chilling one-on-one conversation... perhaps for that mystery muse of his.

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