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.