My Morning Jacket have a reputation as one of the best live bands around, and their tour kickoff Tuesday night at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham showed why.
After a strong opening set by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which concluded with a surprise guest vocal by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James on “Louisiana Fairytale and St. James Infirmary,” MMJ took the stage and dove into “One Big Holiday.”
For more than two hours, the quintet played a representative selection from their catalog, from the rocking “Off the Record” and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream” to the more laid-back “Thank You Too.”
James’ vocals ranged from sweet to soaring (an impressive performance from a man who once cited Kermit the Frog as an influence). And he looked great in his old-west-style outfit, complete with gun belt, toy guns, and flowing cape.
Drummer Patrick Hallahan took a mad-scientist-meets-John-Bonham approach, all flailing arms and wild hair. Throughout, Hallahan and bassist “Two-Tone Tommy” Blankenship laid down a tight groove for the lead guitar work of James and Carl Broemel.
While the drums and bass were in the pocket and anchored, the guitars traveled widely, equal parts improvised riffing and precise melody. Keyboardist Bo Koster was slightly buried in the mix, but when audible, his playing tied everything together.
The ebb and flow of the song sequence was nearly perfect. Of particular note were the dusty blues of “Golden,” the high-energy encore opener “Wordless Chorus,” and the fifteen-minute space-groove of “Dondante,” complete with an extended saxophone break from Broemel that took the song to unexpected heights.
A five-song encore set with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band capped a great night for the lucky 2,200 fans in attendance.
“One Big Holiday”
“The Way That He Sings”
“Off The Record”
“It Beats 4 U”
“Losin’ Yo Head” (Monsters of Folk)”
“Friends Again “
“Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.1”
“Thank You Too!”
“Smokin From Shootin”
(end of) “Run Thru”
“Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt.2”
“Evil Urges” *
“Highly Suspicious * “
“Move On Up” (Curtis Mayfield) *
“Mother In Law” (Herman’s Hermits) *
“CarnivalTime” (Al Johnson) *
*songs played with Preservation Hall Jazz Band