December 15th, 2011

My Morning Jacket – Madison Square Garden – December 14, 2011

Sure, it’s an impressive feat to pull the sword out of the stone. But what really matters is if you can slay the dragon once you’ve got that weapon in your hand. And last night, My Morning Jacket, having the Excalibur of arena rock shows in their grip, killed the beast that is Madison Square Garden like few can. Opening with “Victory Dance,” the stage awash in fiery orange light, Jim James seemed to be leading the amped crowd into battle with him. From there it was two straight hours of MMJ favorites, special guests and guns-a-blazing guitar jams. Each song seemed to top the previous one with barely a pause in between—the band and crowd stepping up a ladder one rung at a time until finally we all looked down with a collective “Whoa! How did we get up this high?”

James raced around the stage like an uncaged animal bound with contagious energy, using every inch of real estate, occasionally with a towel awkwardly around his head, other times more dramatically wrapped in a cape. In a show that was an unending highlight reel, my personal favorite stretch included “Smokin’ from Shootin’,” which led into the quintessential MMJ jam with Patrick Hallahan taking control on drums before dissolving into a long, electronic “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2.” This was impossibly capped by a thrust-your-arms-in-the-air, utterly relentless “Off the Record.” Perhaps equally impressive were the quiet moments, particularly a gorgeous version of “Golden” with Carl Broemel moving to pedal steel, James on acoustic and the crowd as quiet and attentive as an MSG audience can be.

Songs off Circuital fit right in with older material. But not to rest on the power of their normal repertoire, the band invited several guests onstage to add new twists: members of opener Band of Horses, a horn section that punctuated MMJ favorites like “Dancefloors” and Brian Jackson, who added flute to a superlative version of “Dondante” and a perfect cover of Gil Scott Heron’s “The Bottle” (on which he originally played). The show ended just as strongly as it had started, with a seven-song encore, including James solo acoustic on “Bermuda Highway” and the always explosive “One Big Holiday,” which had the mighty dragon of MSG lying defeated in a heap and yet still screaming for more. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Michael Jurick |