Finishing off a year of festival appearances and headlining concerts to promote their sixth studio release, Circuital, My Morning Jacket closed out their tour with another amazing concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Wednesday, December 14, 2011.  Adding to the mystique of being at the last MMJ show of the year was that another great band, Band of Horses, was the opening act.

BAND OF HORSES

It was surprising to see how few people were present to catch Band of Horses, who promptly took the stage at 7:30 p.m.  BOH hit its stride with its second album, Cease to Begin but slightly faltered with Infinite Arms, an attempt to create a more radio-accessible album.  However, Infinite Arms still has a few gems that translated very well in a live setting.  As the band played their hour-long set, fans slowly trickled into the arena and were able to catch classics like The First Song, from their debut album, Everything All the Time, and stellar new tracks like Older.

There was no fancy setup for Band of Horses.  In fact, they played on a stage that was already consumed with instruments and equipment prepared for My Morning Jacket.  Whether it was the cluttered setting or their subtle stage presence, Band of Horses, for the most part, remained mostly stationary during their entire setlist.  While you typically demand more animation from a live performance, the subdued performance actually served as the perfect introduction.  Preceding one of the best live acts of the past few years, it would be a mistake to outdo or even attempt to match the energy and awe created by MMJ.  Band of Horses gladly welcomed their role as an appetizer, whetting the appetite to a stunning main course.

They oddly started the show with the somber Cigarettes, Wedding Bands.  While this is a solid track, it failed to spark the crowd, which was bursting with excitement for the one-two punch of BOH and MMJ.  However, they quickly shook that off with the upbeat The Great Salt Lake.

Ben Bridwell’s vocals were shockingly piercing and powerful at the massive venue and shined brightest on Funeral and No One’s Gonna Love You as an enchanting vision of trees set against a starry night sky set the backdrop on a large screen behind the band.  The band’s most powerful moment was Is There a Ghost at the moment where the song’s tempo races forward and all the instruments begin thrashing.  The most perfect visual/audio combination occurred on Islands on the Coast, a festive track that was matched by the quickly flashing photographs of the band, their friends, and their random live performances at outdoor venues.

BOH interestingly and, in my opinion, perfectly ended their set with a soulful cover of Am I a Good Man originally by Them Two.  However, it was amusing hearing Ben sing a song that has recently been sampled by Ghostface Killah on the song Purified Thoughts.  Overall, Band of Horses provided a solid, albeit safe, opening set.

MY MORNING JACKET

                                                                                                

The arena was packed with a sea of people when My Morning Jacket took the stage at 9:00 p..m.  Matching the color from Circuital’s album cover, MMJ came out to a green glow and proceeded with a mystical opening thanks to the haunting intro for Victory Dance.  As is typical with most My Morning Jacket shows, the energy was palpable in an audience that surprisingly was a mix of a vast age range, from teenagers to likely original Woodstock attendees.  This was the first MMJ show I can recall when a healthy percentage of people was above the age of 50.  My guess is that the Jacket’s reputation as the best live jam band touring today is what pulled in fans of the bands of the 60s and 70s that embraced instrumental journeys at their shows.

Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

There were numerous highlights at this show.  First was on the third song of the night, It Beats 4 U, off of the impeccable Z, which had a massive instrumental to close the track.  Ben Bridwell came back onto the stage to help Jim James with Wonderful.  With two vocalists, one guitar and a subtle drum, Wonderful was strikingly intimate and heartfelt.

The horns section strolled onto the stage to help with the uplifting, joyous Dancefloors.  With the brass blasting and Bo Koster assaulting the piano, Dancefloors enveloped the arena and turned it into a thousands strong dance party.  Also incredible was Dondante, which had the standard, sexy and haunting saxophone solo by Carl Broemel.  However, what made this version unique was the assistance on the track by Brian Jackson, the Brooklyn-born flautist, who’s flute added a new bewitching dimension to the song.

Smoking From Shooting had an uncharacteristically great tribal drum intro and the acoustic Bermuda Highway, with just Jim and a spotlight, filled the entire arena to the point where it felt like the walls would burst.  The band capped off the show with the timely Bing Crosby song, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, assisted by the entire cast of Band of Horses.

Holdin On to Black Metal

One Big Holiday, the definitive live MMJ track, was festive as always.  However, it is undeniable that the funky, hard rockin’ Holdin On To Black Metal is becoming a standard for My Morning Jacket concerts.  With a fun chorus and Jim’s playful, infectious vocals, it is impossible to stand still and not scream this song at the top of your lungs.

The band played for a mind-blowing 2 1/2 hours and played a multitude of songs from pretty much every album.  There was something for every MMJ fan, old and new.

The visuals at this show were more present than at prior My Morning Jacket shows.  With the giant screen displaying the album cover (a magic eye tube fitted onto vintage radio receivers from the 1930s) at times in holographic form, and at other times ominously glowing with trees or spinning stars, MMJ wanted to make a spectacle that assaulted the eye as well as the ear.   At one point, Jim stated that MSG was “The Greatest Circus Tent Ever Assembled.”  It was a sentence that encapsulated the night and provides for the ideal analogy – with the band as the talent in the center ring and Jim as the caped ringmaster.  An epic show from start to finish with a near flawless setlist, My Morning Jacket ended their 2011 tour in grand style…which, thankfully, is the only way they know how.

BAND OF HORSES SETLIST:

1. Cigarettes, Wedding Bands

2. The Great Salt Lake

3. Is There a Ghost

4. The General Specific

5. For Annabelle

6. The First Song

7. Islands on the Coast

8. Older

9. No One’s Gonna Love You

10. Infinite Arms

11. Ode to LRC

12. The Funeral

13. Am I a Good Man

MY MORNING JACKET SETLIST:

1. Victory Dance

2. Circuital

3. It Beats 4 U

4. First Light

5. I’m Amazed

6. Wonderful (The Way I Feel)

7. Steam Engine

8. Outta My System

9. Dancefloors

10. Golden

11. Mahgeetah

12. Dondante

13. Smokin From Shootin

14. Run Thru

15. Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2

16. Off the Record

17. Gideon

Encore

18. Bermuda Highway

19. Wordless Chorus

20. The Day is Coming

21. The Bottle (Gil Scott-Heron Cover)

22. Holdin on to Black Metal

23. One Big Holiday

24. I’ll Be Home for Christmas

 

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