My Morning Jacket @ the Louisville Palace 5.31.11

It’s been so long since I was compelled to say where a show ranks among my all-time favorites that I feel I can safely say this while still in the afterglow of last night’s show: My Morning Jacket’s performance at the Louisville Palace is the best show I’ve seen to date.

I’ve seen My Morning Jacket a decent number of times now and this blew them all away. Only the 4-hour set from Bonnaroo 2008 can come close to the show I just saw.

I won the only two bets I made with myself going into this show: Erykah Badu sang “Tyrone” (more on that later) and the show opened with “Victory Dance.” That was a no-brainer really. It’s too great of a song to skip on its release day show and it’s not one that you can exactly slide into a set anywhere you please. And though there are fans who seem less than thrilled with the new record, I think the one-two opening punch of “Victory Dance” and “Circuital” are a perfect way to open a show. I wondered for a moment if they might play the entire album in order, but they brought out “Off the Record” immediately following, proving that this was no novelty show — it’s a rocker like all the others.

Before I go off talking about special “treats” that were scattered throughout the night, I want to take a moment to say why this show was so great. It’s not about the guests or even the covers. The Bonnaroo 2008 show had appearances by Kirk Hammet and Zach Galifianakis and about half a dozen covers, but this still topped it. Everything was in sync for this show; everyone was happy to be there; everything clicked. So just know that when I talk about Jim soloing on his knees in front of Erykah Badu, I was just as interested in Bo’s face as he watched the duo interact. There was an electricity on stage that was running through everyone — and it didn’t take long to jump into the crowd.

The first atypical addition to the show was when the often-inseparable duo Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore came out to perform on “Wonderful.” Ben played cello for the song — as he does on the album — and Daniel sang the second verse. It’s not easy to sing a verse that’s bookended by Jim James’ vocals, but Daniel did it like a champ. And more important than how good that collaboration sounded was that it’s just another in a long series of the MMJ guys going out of their way to share their spotlight with some other Kentucky musicians. This was arguably the biggest night in the band’s history and they used it to introduce everyone streaming the concert to two of their favorite local musicians. Now that’s a class act.

Halfway into the set Louisville mayor Greg Fischer came out to announce the song chosen by online fans. You guys have good taste: we were all rewarded with “Steam Engine.” I don’t know that I’ve heard it more than once, but it’s an incredible live song. The mayor’s appearance was “eh” but at least he didn’t stay longer than it took to announce everything.

If you watched the webcast, you know that the encore break is where things started to get really interesting. Rachel Dratch was in the pre-recorded video; she introduced My Morning Jacket to a Elton John’ed-up version of themselves who would play while the original band took a rest. In all the excitement of the show, never once did I wonder if there would be any crazy costumes. As the photos show, it’s sort of an Aztec formal wedding look from the next down and all Elton from the neck up. All it made me think was how glad I was to be catching this band in their prime, when things like this aren’t weird. I’ll definitely go see My Morning Jacket thirty years from now, but nobody wants to see 60-year-olds dressed like KISS.

And yes, this is when the real magic started. For four songs, two from each group, Erykah Badu threatened to single-handedly upstage one of the best live bands in America. Luckily it wasn’t a competition, but a glorious collaboration. Hearing Erykah sing on “Wordless Chorus” was an incredible experience topped only by hearing her and Jim work together on her classic “Tyrone.” When she playfully shoved Jim’s head while he was soloing on his knees in front of her, I knew I’d probably never see a collaboration this great again.

As Erykah left, the back of the stage filled up with girls in black attire. The band brought all the women who sang backing vocals on “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” to recreate it for the show. The touch was appreciated, as I’m sure we’ll be one of the only shows to get live vocals for the song. I was really hoping for a horn section to go with it, but there’s no reason to get greedy. “Holdin…” is another great addition to the live show, along with “Circuital” and “Victory Dance.” I know the live show is going to do a lot of proselytizing for Circuital this summer and I think it’s going to be a great ambassador.

The show ended, as it normally does, with “One Big Holiday.” I swear everyone in the Palace sang along with it, prompting me to later ask if we could legitimately try to get it to be Kentucky’s official rock song, as Oklahoma did with the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize” Though I’m sure most people at the show had heard that song countless times, I’m just as sure that it was as special of a moment for them as it was for me.

Lots more photos after the break.

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[video] Ben Sollee plays for the Subway Sessions

Ben’s kept busy ever since he left our fair state. Here he is performing “Captivity” for the Subway Sessions. If nothing else, it’s worth watching for Ben’s ability to hold the cello off the floor for the entire song.

Ben’s also giving away a free remix. Just go like him on Facebook to snag that.

My Morning Jacket @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

During a sublimely transcendent moment of “Dondante” in My Morning Jacket’s Lexington show, I inhaled strongly and sucked a cough drop quickly into my throat. In the instant I thought “Can I breathe?” I hadn’t recovered enough to really know the answer. Assuming the worst, I realized that — should I have to die before my time — you could do a lot worse than to go out at a My Morning Jacket concert.

Now, all this happened in the time it takes to blink twice — so I really didn’t move or react. But it was a very weird moment that really drove home just how good My Morning Jacket are live. If I’d feared for my life at most any other band I’d imagine my mind would be racing with thoughts of “This is how I die? At a buzz band showcase at SXSW??” But nope. This is a band I’ll stand with forever; a band I’ll live and die with — but thankfully not for a while on that last one.

Let me start by saying that I had to leave this show early. I had to make a PM drive to West Virginia to attend a funeral, so I checked out just after the band played a song or two after Ben Sollee joined them to play “Wonderful.” Had I stayed for the full show, I’m fairly confident that I could easily call this the second best time I’ve seen My Morning Jacket. The first will most likely forever be late night Bonnaroo 2006. Their three hour set in the rain made my first time seeing MMJ absolutely incredible. But this was as good as a coverless present-day set of theirs probably gets.

Durin ghte show a lot of ideas ran through my head about how Jim must feel to be back in Lexington. A few songs in and I realized that everything I figured he must be thinking was actually somehow what I would think if I was in his situation. He lived in Lexington for a bit in college and spoke a few times about it. He shared the story about being here for UK’s championship basketball loss and victory in 97/98 (“No matter what, you fucking rioted”) and a bit of well aimed local college pandoring: “God bless the Euclid Avenue Kroger!” A good deal of My Morning Jacket’s formation happened in UK’s Holmes Hall. And though it seems Lexington didn’t do much to support MMJ in the early years, he clearly holds no grudge. Or if he does, he didn’t let it get in the way of an incredible show and some cheerful between-song banter.

What made this show extra special was the return of the opener Ben Sollee. I’m generally a fan of opener collaboration — this one especially so. Ben came out to play cello three times, the best of which was his contribution to “Wonderful.” That track has long been played live by MMJ, but it’s finally going to appear on the upcoming record Circuital featuring Ben on cello. It was fantastic. I remember hearing Ben’s cello on a few My Morning Jacket songs when he toured with Jim and Daniel Martin Moore, but this takes that to a completely new level. My only wish is that the cello had been turned up a bit — kinda hard to fight its way out from a drum kit and several distorted guitars.

The only other really noteworthy inclusion was the Tennessee Fire track “Butch Cassidy,” which Jim talked a bit about. He said he wrote that song in Holmes Hall after getting off work at Fazolis. Giant cheers from the crowd, many of whom no doubt get off work from crappy jobs and go back to tiny dorms on that same street. It didn’t come across as an intentionally inspiring thing, but to me it was. To any aspiring songwriters in the auditorium, that story would have come across as a godsend of encouragement. And I hope it did. Only I hope the next superstar to come out of UK put in their time in Kirwan tower — that way I’ll have a reason to smile.

Lots more photos after the break.

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Ben Sollee @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

I feel that over the next year or so, it’ll be hard for me to avoid slipping into the cliche “look how far Ben Sollee has come” rut when talking about his staggeringly great live shows in front of increasingly large audiences. Of course, me falling into the “remember when” pattern with Ben is kind of a laugh, given that it wasn’t until well after Learning to Bend that I realized how lucky Lexington was to have him. But I’ve learned. So have lots of others. And after seeing Ben’s performance at Memorial Coliseum, I know that this show wasn’t the culmination of years of work — I know that he’s at the start of something great.

Let me start by saying that there’s nothing about my record collection, iTunes library or general listening habits that would indicate a deep affinity for Ben’s music. I really don’t listen to anyone else who sounds remotely like him. But he’s such a great singer, songwriter and cellist that he’s pretty much irresistible. The other day I told a friend that Ben occupies this incredibly rare and mythical space where he fits in just as well with the NPR/Starbucks crowd as he does with the Bonnaroo bunch. If you strip “Mass Appeal” of its negative connotations, that’s Ben to a T.

So what of his Memorial Coliseum performance? It was easily the best I’ve seen Ben. Obviously it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him with a band (BS, DMM + JJ or Ben and Daniel), but it was my first time seeing him with members that felt like his band. I didn’t write down their names, but his violinist/bassist and drummer were perfect. Ben must’ve known it too, since he couldn’t stop grinning at either of them.

It’s hard to say what material played the best. The new song “Electrified” sounded fantastic, but it’s really tough to discount Dear Companion standout “Try” and the always great Learning to Bend stuff. Really, that’s probably left to people who weren’t hearing these songs done live for the dozenth time. But I can say that everything was fantastic.

More photos after the break

Continue reading Ben Sollee @ Memorial Coliseum 4.17.11

[VIDEO] Ben Sollee: “Electrified”

I am all about Lexington loving Lexington — and really this love is four layers deep if you include me in there. Lexingtonian Ben Sollee enlisted his neighbors Robert Beatty (Hair Police) and Coleman Guyon (Trailblazer) to whip up a music video for his song “Electrified” off his upcoming record Inclusions. It’s a really interesting thing when you ask experimental artists to soundtrack a classical-pop artist like Ben Sollee. Apparently one of the many things that can result in is a video that reacts to the changes in an artistic/organic song with some distinctly mechanical means.

Keeping up with Ben this spring has been a hefty job. I’ll try to summarize. He’s got his album up for presale and stream at Bandcamp, an opening slot for My Morning Jacket this Sunday at Memorial Coliseum and tour dates which include a very cool show at the Kentucky Theater this May.

Ben Sollee announces KY Theater bike benefit show

Ben Sollee’s opening for My Morning Jacket this Sunday, but he’s got his own show coming up soon. In May, Ben’s playing a show at the Kentucky Theater to support the Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop. It’s in celebration of “Bike Lexington Month” and a portion of the ticket sales will benefit the BSCBS.

Ben Sollee
w/Special Guests, The Agape Theater Troupe and Friends
Kentucky Theater
May 5
7pm – 10pm
$20 (purchase here)

Facebook Event Page

Bonnaroo reveals Comedy lineup, adds more bands

Bonnaroo beefed up their announced lineup today by adding the full list of comedians and tacking some more onto the list of bands. Now we’ve got Lewis Black, Donald Glover, John Waters and… wait, John Waters?? Crazy festival indeed.

Grab your tickets at Bonnaroo.com

Check below for the full list.

Continue reading Bonnaroo reveals Comedy lineup, adds more bands

[VIDEO] Ben Sollee: “Hurting”

Here’s another new one from Ben Sollee’s upcoming album Inclusions (May 10). The video packs a triple punch of Lexington power: video work by Robert Beatty and Coleman Guyon and — of course — music by Ben Sollee. Makes me feel all proud inside. So if you find cause to pump up your Lexington pride today, you could do no better than to give this one a shot.

Ben Sollee is opening for My Morning Jacket at Memorial Coliseum Sunday, April 17. More tour dates can be found here.