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My Morning Jacket @ The Guvernment, Toronto: Oct. 19/05

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My Morning Jacket @ The Guvernment, Toronto: Oct. 19/05

Show Review

By Dave Ball


My Morning Jacket

It’s been roughly a year and a half since Louisville Kentucky’s My Morning Jacket unleashed their brand of Deep South rock meets country-tinged folk at the venerable Opera House in Toronto. That show has taken on a kind of mythos amongst Jacketheads, thanks mainly to a well circulated, near pristine bootleg and the band themselves singling out the Opera House performance. The intimate setting really helped make that show memorable - another factor was a set list containing many older favourites and even better new material from their breakthrough album ' It Still Moves ' - their most mature and commercial album to date. It earned my concert of the year for 2004.

So I was pretty leery when I heard that that My Morning Jacket was booked at the cavernous Guvernment nightclub, a place often associated with dampening the mood of even the keenest concert-goer. If any band could lift the roof off of the ' Guv ', MMJ would be the band. But they'd have to do it playing unproven songs ( from their ambitious new album ' Z ' ) in front of a Toronto audience - a city with a well-earned reputation for producing quiet and listless crowds. For those unfamiliar with ' Z ', its release has caused a stir amongst music critics and fans alike. ' Z ' finds the band veering away from their original dark atmospheric sound, favouring clean production values and hook-dominated, harder edged pop-rock tunes. MMJ's new sound will galvanize or polarize longtime fans - yet may reach its purpose of gaining a mainstream audience. The Guvernment, a ' Z ' dominated set list and even the infamous Toronto crowds had me thinking this was a match made in hell. Fortunately, I found out early on that I was very, very, very wrong.

After ultra-mellow piano and drum duo Royal Wood failed to warm-up the disinterested throng, the lights mercifully dimmed. Even an unwanted onslaught of dry-ice couldn't stifle the roar that greeted keyboardist Bo Koster as he broke into the opening chords for " Wordless Chorus ". Shaggy-haired leader Jim James eventually joined the rest of his band, cutting an impressive swath through the fog. Armed with only a mic and lit by strobes, James belted out the words to the slow, virtually guitar-less, organ-dominated ballad. " Wordless Chorus " is still a curious choice for an opener, but it works because it affectively channels the power of James' voice. You could hear the passion dripping from every howl and hoot.

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The band cranked-up the amps with the next three rockers, " It Beats 4 U ", " Gideon " and crowd favourite and modern guitar rock anthem " One Big Holiday ". The last two songs had Jim gripping his Gibson Flying-V, hair flailing and trading off solos with guitarist Carl Broemel. Just as the energy in the crowd increased enough to rival the intensity emanating from the stage, the band chose to quiet things down. Listening to " The Dark ", " Sooner " and especially their minor hit " Golden " reminded me that as much as MMJ like to rock, it's the dark folk songs that have cemented Jim James' legacy as a significant and important songwriter.

If the songs on ' Z ' embody the next phase of MMJ's musical evolution, then this tour is about rocking it out. With their batteries fully recharged, Jim and company once again tore through a series of blistering rockers - one of the best being ' Z ''s leadoff single: " Off The Record ". To be honest, I'm not a fan of the studio track. It's too clean and jingle-jangly for my liking - but it was given new life on Wednesday. Funny how that live thing works eh? James took many fiery solos on the night, but none were more exciting and impressive than his slamming and slashing string bends in the trippy instrumental section of " Off The Record ".

Jim James often overshadows bassist Two-Tone Tommy and drummer Patrick Hallahan, but their importance to MMJ's sound - especially live - is impossible to ignore. The duo laid down one heavy groove after another, especially on the haunting masterpiece " Dondante " and the explosive set closer " Run Thru ". When the latter tune came to a crashing end, the band exited having earned a well-deserved break. Screams and raucous applause followed, but quickly dissolved. If you’d bet ahead of time that this Toronto audience would work hard enough to warrant an encore you'd be sadly mistaken. Other than in a few pockets of cheering and dancing people, the fans were pretty docile and immobile for much of the night - to their credit they did cheer loudly after every song. Given the pathetic smattering of applause between the set break, MMJ showed real class and provided a memorable encore. It began with a beautiful version of Nick Drake classic " Northern Sky " - an obvious salute to Canada. A non-album rarity “ Oxen “ followed, then the amps were turned-up once again for the last two songs: " Mahgeetah " from ' It Still Moves ' and the spirited rocker " Anytime ". The night ended on a high and MMJ left the stage for the last time leaving the audience wanting more... and rightfully so. My Morning Jacket has put on two great shows in less than two years in Toronto. I wonder what we’ll do to deserve an encore?

**** (out of 5)


Wordless Chorus

It Beats 4 U


One Big Holiday

The Dark



What a Wonderful Man

Off The Record

Lay Low


Run Thru


Northern Sky




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