This Jam Is Your Jam

March 15th, 2012

Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Yim Yames and Anders Parker – Webster Hall – March 14, 2012

While the stage was loaded with talent last night show at Webster Hall, the real MVP might have been the lone roadie/guitar tech. The crowd watched this guy tune about a zillion guitars—acoustic, electric, bass—getting the stage ready. It was an impressive feat and all that work was absolutely necessary because  every single instrument was used to its fullest extent over the course of an awe-inspiring show. This was a modern day supergroup playing music written to accompany unfinished lyrics and writings of Woody Guthrie. The band is Jay Farrar (Son Volt, et al.), Anders Parker (Gob Iron, et al.), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Will Johnson (Centro-matic, et al.), who nominally played rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and drums respectively.

They performed with a communal spirit that would have made Guthrie proud, sharing lead vocals and swapping roles throughout the night. As far as supergroups go, this one is about halfway between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Blind Faith, matching hefty harmonies with all-out rock and roll. The first part of the show was expected as the band rolled through all the material on New Multitudes. It was great to watch each member take the lead role and see the others transform into a backing band in the style of that leader. So that Farrar’s opener, “Hoping Machine,” embraced Son Volt’s twang-with-grit feel while James’s “My Revolutionary Mind” had a distinct MMJ arc, starting with a focus on his voice and then exploding into a flesh-crawling rock jam. Practically every permutation of two-, three- and four-part harmonies were realized, with each voice distinctly on its own making powerful music together. My personal highlight was “Chorine My Sheba Queen” with James sweetly harmonizing with Johnson’s lead vocal while Parker and Farrar beautifully laid down atmospheric drum-melody behind them.

The set lasted about an hour, and the crowd, which had been a perfect balance of enthusiastic and attentive all night, howled for an encore. What they got in return would better be described as a full-on second set as each member played a solo acoustic tune of his own, capped by James’s spine-tingling sing-along version of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” Again the show felt satisfyingly complete, but the band wasn’t yet finished, as each member highlighted another of his songs with the whole band in tow, each seemingly topping the previous in a playful we-rock-harder competition. As the “encore” reached the hour mark, the band played a ninth song with every member taking lead for a verse. What followed was a blistering, jammy  rock out with noisy guitar interplay shaking Webster Hall that went on in glorious feedback, surely exactly the way Woody Guthrie diagrammed it many years ago, until each musician left the stage one at a time to rousing applause (and a nod to the guy who had to tune all those guitars). —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Joe Papeo |