Taking the Vega stage for their first ever Copenhagen concert, the five Kentuckians in My Morning Jacket took little time establishing that this would be a night to remember.
Opening with ‘The Way He Sings’ from 2001’s At Dawn and ‘Heartbreakin Man’ from their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire, it was clear that MMJ would compensate area fans for their long wait – and a series of gig cancellations – with a night that would run through the band’s impressive back catalogue.
Known as one of the best live bands in the business, MMJ lived up to their reputation with a two-hour-plus set that saw rip-roaring guitar solos from frontman Jim James and guitarist Carl Broemel, Broemel tear off not one but two saxophone solos, acoustic numbers in which James’s hauntingly beautiful voice entranced the near-capacity Store Vega crowd, and drums and bass lines that could be felt deep in the chest.
Last year’s Circuital and 2008‘s Evil Urges got the lion’s share of tracks, with five songs from each. The early-set duo of Circuital’s ‘First Light’ and ‘Outta My System’ both took ho-hum studio tracks and gave them new energy and life. In the latter, a tale of trading in youthful indiscretions as we age, it was a cathartic moment when James belted out “If you don’t live now, you ain’t even trying/and then you’re on your way to a midlife crisis/Let it out anyway you feel." Both the audience and the band did let it out, dropping any inhibitions and giving way to the musical bliss that was to follow. Meanwhile, the unexpected Evil Urges numbers ‘Thank You Too!’ and ‘I’m Amazed’ were welcome surprises, and the album’s ‘Smokin from Shootin’ and ‘Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2’ were among the highlights of the night.
Throughout the show, James played the part of a somewhat reluctant superstar. This clearly seems to be a guy who is more comfortable with a guitar in his hands, as he would cloak himself with a trench coat or a towel on songs like ‘Lay Low’ or ‘The Day is Coming’, in which he put aside the axe to just deliver the vocals.
But with his guitar in hand – whether it was the Flying V he used to absolutely shred his way through ‘One Big Holiday’ or the acoustic used on the gorgeous rendition of ‘Bermuda Highway’ – he was fully in his element, alternately crooning and screaming, with his hair either obscuring his face or flying around as he thrashed about the stage.
James’ big hair, however, was no match for that of drummer Patrick Hallahan, who was a beast behind the kit and seemed to be genuinely enjoying every moment of the performance.
With such an impressive back catalogue at their disposal, it is inevitable that certain songs fans were anticipating didn’t make the set. But in some ways, the fans could only have themselves to blame, as My Morning Jacket is dubbing their current European tour ‘The Spontaneous Curation Series’ and largely basing their setlists on venue-specific fan requests via Twitter hashtags – #MMJVega in this case.
Whether it can be attributed to a deluge of fan requests or not, the one slight misstep of the evening was the inclusion of the much-maligned ‘Highly Suspicious’ in the encore. Four years after the release of Evil Urges, it’s still a bit awkward to hear James sing in falsetto about “peanut butter pudding surprise” over a funk beat. However, the song gave the rather dapper-looking duo of bassist Tom ‘Two-Tone’ Blankenship, clad in a tie and vest, and bowler hat-sporting keyboardist Bo Koster a chance to really shine, as the two played the song’s intro with their eyes locked into one another and giant grins on their faces. And despite the out-of-place feel of the song, it was the first thing this reviewer was humming the morning after the show.
‘Highly Suspicious’ was followed by a triumphant set-ending performance of ‘Victory Dance’, a fitting end to an evening that saw Copenhagen fans finally get their chance to see My Morning Jacket give a performance that was truly victorious.