Reviews > Shows
My Morning Jacket at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
MMJ earlier this year – photo by Kevin Fuller
My Morning Jacket
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
San Francisco, CA
Over the course of 23 songs clocking in close to three hours, My Morning Jacket offered fans a career retrospective at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Touching on every era of the band, from “Heartbreakin Man,” the very first song from the very first album, 1999’s _The Tennessee Fire _, to several selections from 2011’s Circuital, each of the group’s six full-length records were represented, as well as some deeper cuts, like sultry dance number “Cobra” from the obscure Chocolate and Ice EP.
The mix of songs not only marked time for the band, but displayed the vast evolution that has gradually been occurring for more than 13 years. The group’s earthy, alt-country roots, which originally took shape in Kentucky, were evident in “At Dawn,” from 2001’s album of the same name, its triumphant rock anthems on display with “Mahgeetah,” off 2003’s breakout effort It Still Moves, and the present-day mix of styles that dip from soul and funk to psychedelic guitars, reggae, pop and more were all found in “Off The Record” from 2005’s Z.
Set against a dynamic light show that moved from strobes and moody walls of color to placing the entire auditorium inside a floating airplane, band and fans staring out of windows at trees below, the delicate approach of “Golden,” with bandleader Jim James proclaiming, “people always told me that bars are dark and lonely and talk is often cheap and filled with air,” was the perfect contrast to the gut-wrenching cries and murky guitars of “Dondante.” Similarly, the sinister dance grooves of “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2” were balanced by the sing-along hooks inside reckless rock & roll epic “One Big Holiday,” which had fans pumping fists and banging heads as the final piece of the five-song encore.
Like every song, every stage is different and the recently renovated Bill Graham Civic Auditorium offers its own set of pros and cons. Unlike many of the pristine concert halls and theaters that help define the Bay Area’s rich music scene, the Civic Center simply doesn’t have the warmth or atmosphere of say Oakland’s Fox Theater (where MMJ played last time through), but it does have a hell of a lot more seats, and it took a good three or four songs before the band and the audience found their collective groove. My Morning Jacket has proven long ago to be more than capable of conquering obstacles on stage (anyone remember the epic afternoon rain set at Bonnaroo 2004!), and it was the same with the Civic Center, James using the cavernous, metallic belly and high ceilings as one might imagine he used the infamous grain silo back on the farm in Kentucky where the first couple albums were recorded, letting his reverb-drenched falsetto roll across the curved walls at the end of “Wonderful,” “Golden” and other stripped down tracks.
For fans of the band it makes no difference if they are standing in a muddy field, a gorgeous, intimate venue or Madison Square Garden, night after night, under any and all circumstances, MMJ has earned the public’s trust. Whether pulling heartstrings or stringing jams into the abyss, My Morning Jacket extracts every bit of emotion from its material, both lyrically and instrumentally, and it’s this mix of tight, well written songs with loose, adventurous jams that has put the quintet into the conversation of “America’s greatest band.”
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