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Jim James Is a Force of Nature

February 20th, 2013

Jim James – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 19, 2013


Fans of My Morning Jacket’s perpetual motion machine, Jim James know there are (at least) three sides to his music. There’s the arena-rock star, there’s the folk crooner … and there’s the sexy soul machine. And while all three sides of his equilateral triangle were in evidence last night at the sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg, it was the latter that was in full force as James grooved and swayed his way through songs from his solo release Regions of Light and Sound of God. He took the stage beneath swirling crushed-velvet purple lights, and opening with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” his voice was equally violet: half cool blue, half red hot.

This was a powerful start to the set. His band—heavy on the slinky electric piano and bass—seemed fully formed, well rehearsed and up to the task in only their fourth gig. The lights were perfectly synched to the song, going to black for dramatic effect when James sang “power going out” over and over in the coda. The energy only built from there with James singing “Know Til Now” and “A New Life” like the second coming of Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. “Of the Mother Again” was a highlight, with its distorted scratch-your-back guitar solo from James melting into some sugary keyboards, leading to the inevitable, and effective, use of the disco ball hanging above the packed dance floor.

Like all of James’s projects, this felt like anything but “something on the side.” Songs like “All Is Forgiven” had the band behind the man displaying a range of sounds, this one digging darker and mysterious with a sultry Arabian Nights changeup. The set closed with a long, seething slow-burn jam led by the superb bass player, as James eventually walked offstage while the band kept churning along. Of course, being supersexy can eventually become a tease if you don’t give ’em what they want, so the encore was an audience-gratifying miniset of My Morning Jacket songs: a solo acoustic “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” followed by “Wordless Chorus,” “It Beats 4 U” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2,” all perfectly handled by the band. While that would have been a complete 90 minutes of music, with Jim James, there’s always room for one more, so he went full rock star, closing out the night with a high-energy “Victory Dance,” the sexy snakeskin shed for one song, but not for too long, I’m sure. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com