My Morning Jacket have been lauded as America’s premier live act, and last night into this early morning, as the rain fell and the mud thickened on the Bonnaroo grounds, Jim James and co. proved it with a mind-blowing, near four-hour set on the Which Stage.
With plenty of covers and tunes new, old, and obscure, the lengthy set was only punctuated by the Tennessee downpour: Stage lights refracted through the pounding wall of water, adding color to the soulful “I’m Amazed,” off Evil Urges, and painted the soaked stage purple during Z gem “Anytime,” the tune’s chugging riffs and ah ah ah backing vocals acting as a precursor to its let-loose guitar solo.
Sans any real time constraints (really, whose going to pull them offstage?), MMJ pushed well past their allotted three-hour set, letting jammier, rootsy material off earlier records such as The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn float on impromptu solos and off-the-cuff sonic twists and turns. And James and crew even pulled out a handful of covers — all odd, all awesome. Sporting a cape (!), the grizzled frontman bounded the stage with sass, firing off James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” as his band, joined by a horn section, grooved out.
Funktastic renditions of Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down on It” and Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” followed before the quintet returned to their own catalogue with “Wordless Chorus,” its bubbling rhythms popping beneath James’ tune-ending, awe-inspiring high-registered yelps.
Like he had written the tune himself, James whispered out the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” his eyes closed and head tilted back as he lilted, “she ain’t got nothing at all,” before dueling, southern-fried guitars took center stage. New tunes like “Librarian” and “Smoking from Shootin'” further engaged the sopping wet crowd, as did James’ solo performance of “Bermuda Highway,” but after more than thirty-five songs and well over three hours, MMJ closed the set with a cover of Mötley Crüe’s thunderous ballad “Home Sweet Home.”
And that it is; In the comfort of their own backyard, My Morning Jacket proved not just why they’re one of America’s premier live acts, but redefined the art of turning up their sleeves and letting their personalities and tunes shine — no holds barred.