My Morning Jacket
LC Pavilion, Columbus, October 6
by Kevin J. Elliott

It’s been said many times before that My Morning Jacket are the greatest American band going. While that may be up for dispute what’s not is the claim that they are the country’s—perhaps the world’s—greatest live band. So even with a sprawling uneven album (Evil Urges) in tow, the combination of a crisp October night (albeit Monday) and “An Evening with My Morning Jacket” was required attendance. The relatively intimate (5,000 capacity), outdoor LC Pavilion in Columbus is venue made for these types of live encounters, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience there (besides emptying the wallet for overpriced swill).

Over the years the Louisville band has acquired a mass of fans from the neo-hippie contingent who follow them from town to town in a fashion similar to Deadheads. Tape trading (it’s probably CDR trading now) is common, chronicling their marathon sets that rarely clock in at less than two hours. I knew what I was getting into and I expected nothing but hits, even for two-plus hours. With the wealth of songs they’ve amassed over their five albums, their set is relatively short on filler; there’s really not a dud in the bunch. And I can attest it was this way Monday night.

What makes them such a treasure live is the treatment they give their songs, the way they unfold night after night. Regardless if they’re playing an arena, an outdoor amphitheater or a dive bar, you’re always going to get all sides of My Morning Jacket. I was a bit hesitant for this tour if only because as the summer waned so did my enthusiasm for their latest album. In the live setting, though, songs like “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream,” and the ominous title track come to life on the stage; all the eerie synth textures and burrowing funk beats weave through the smoke and waft out into the night air, giving a higher purpose to the band in the middle of it all. The same can be said for Jim James’ acoustic lullabies, particularly “Librarian,” a song that put him front and center and among a throng of fans and on which he bared his soul and those gorgeous pipes. A suite of these down-tempo campfire songs bleed into the show’s highlight, a thrilling version of “Dodante” that was built from disconnected riffs into a mammoth tangle of solos after what seemed like 30 minutes later.

If James didn’t have the proper chops on guitar then the band’s penchant for lengthy, monster jams would be a gesture of indulgence. But I suppose it’s these re-interpretations that fuel them through almost three hours. James is easily one of the most skilled players in the business and that was heard throughout the set, completely void of the poses and heehaws one might expect. Though not a lot of personality shone from the other members—they all lacked a pretention that could make such a big-budget spectacle divert into a train wreck—James had enough personality himself to forgive the guys behind him, frequently rushing the stage in a cape, tinkering on the various instruments set about, flailing about whenever they were about to fall into another psychedelic stew. He was the consummate showman with the songs to back it up. After last night, I’d be happy to spend an evening with Jim James anytime.

Echo and the Bunnymen
Radio City Music Hall, New York, October 1
by Stephen Slaybaugh

To say that I was looking forward to Echo and the Bunnymen performing Ocean Rain, their classic (but not their best—that would be Heaven Up Here) album from 1984, in its entirety with a ten-piece orchestra would be... well, let’s just say I was really fucking excited. The band had infamously done something similar in 1983, playing a selection of songs but not an entire album with an orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London and had just played that prestigious venue again weeks earlier, doing Ocean Rain there too, in celebration of their 30 years as a band. So last Wednesday’s performance at Radio City Hall was to be a momentous occasion, especially for those of us on this side of the pond.

But before Ian MacCulloch, Will Sergeant and the league of replacement Bunnymen (original drummer Pete DeFreitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989 and bassist Les Pattinson quit in 1999 after making Evergreen with the reformed band), got to the night’s main attraction and what would be the second of two sets, they started with “Lips Like Sugar,” still their most popular song to date. That was followed in succession by “Rescue” and “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” songs I’ve seen them do each and every show, but still remain spirited. Ian can still hit most notes despite his years of smoking (Radio City must have been stricter than other venues as this was the first time I’d seen him onstage without a cigarette in hand), and Sergeant pulls forth each glorious from his guitar as golden as the days they were born. They played one song from their forthcoming record, which didn’t seem on par with those of the last couple albums, but not horrible either—just not memorable. Fortunately, it was followed by the best portion of any Bunnymen set: when the hits are set aside for the dark side of their catalog. “The Disease,” “All That Jazz” and “All My Colours” (with “The Back of Love” snuck in between the last two) provided a thunderously brooding counterpoint to the lighter fare. “Villiers Terrace” would have been the perfect follow-up but instead it was “People Are Strange,” the Doors cover. A melding of “Walk on the Wild Side” and “In the Midnight Hour” was next before the curtain went down (well, not really) with “The Cutter.”

Following an intermission, the band returned, the orchestra already seated onstage. Beginning with the beginning, “Silver” never sounded so good, the strings’ effervescence taking flight. Best though was “Nocturnal Me,” for once hearing it and furthermore done so splendidly. Same for “Crystal Days” and “The Yo Yo Man.” “Thorn of Crowns” was a definite highlight, Mac’s jibberish juxtaposed with the princely orchestration. Of course, many were waiting for “The Killing Moon,” but the peak would truly come with the final songs, “My Kingdom” and “Ocean Rain,” both a mixture of pop splendor and the orchestra exercising some real sonic expanse. While I think the cavernous quality of Radio City pulled some of the energy from the show, the sound couldn’t be matched, each gilded moment heard in detail. It was a wondrous night in many respects, the very fact that this event even occurred and I bore witness to it being top among them.