My Morning Jacket @ SXSW

The show: Featuring eight new songs!! from the forthcoming Evil Urges.

The interview: Jim James talks about his songwriting process, about religion, about getting in the zone. Pretty candid, too.

Running commentary:

"Evil Urges" - Didn't do it for me. Bummer.

"Off the Record" - Does this tune ever get old? Well, as it turns out, yes. The soloing is over-the-top. Mighty song, just not the best version.

"Gideon" - Sounding really good here, as good as it ever was. Sung with more oomph - James makes that microphone cringe - and the dynamics are spot-on.

"Highly Suspicious" - God damn! This sounds like Prince in a parallel universe. I'll buy the album for this alone.

"What a Wonderful Man" - Wonderful song for a wonderful man. (On the side: if Jesus is neither hither or thither for James - his words, not mine - then what to make of this barnburner? A t-bone steak for your thoughts!)

"I'm Amazed" - I'm not. Sounds like James doesn't have this one down yet vocally. He's frequently off-key. The tune will probably knock me senseless when I hear the record, I'm certain they perfected it in the studio, but not yet on the stage...which is fine, this being a preview and all.

"Thank You Too" - Nice. Sweet harmonies, groovy beat. Makes me think of a cross between CSN, The Band and Al Green. But in the end, forget the comparisons, this is quintessential MMJ. A little more off-key singing from James at the end, but I'm sort of being an asshole. The passion's there, after all. (Not as good as "Highly Suspicious", though.)

"Golden" - I remember putting this on mixtapes a lot. Might be my favorite Jim James melody; such a natural, effortless song, even if the lyrics are a little undercooked. Still, a very serene song, and a pretty good performance. (Also: NPR "one of the most valuable resources we have here as human beings on this planet"? James must have been in the zone.)

"Sec Walkin'" - An elegant tune, this one. You know why? Well, it takes a good chunk of its harmony - especially that pretty guitar figure at the end - from "Michelle". If you want elegance, crib from McCartney. It's science.

"Wordless Chorus" - MMJ could stretch this out to an endless, aimless boogie-jam (to borrow from Ben Sisario) and I wouldn't mind one bit. It's that good. That said, the delay on James' voice was a bit much.

"Way He Sings" - This tune's just so warm: Guitars like a Blanket, Drums like a Sweater, Keyboards like a Scarf, Bass like a Brand-New Pair of Long Underwear. And those Voices are The Cake, that Reverb's The Icing! I don't know what I'm saying; basically, I want to wear this song around Portland. (And eat it.)

"Aluminum Park" - Another new one. Not noticing anything distinguishing this from other straight-ahead MMJ rockers, but I can't really resist when James goes "WHOAAAOW!" So, there's that, at least.

"One Big Holiday" - Speaking of straight-ahead rockers, this is still MMJ's best, probably because it's not so straight-ahead. Heavy-hitting, sure, but it knows when to jab and even then it makes you sting. And that opening line - "Waking up, feelin' good and limber" - is pretty damned appropriate, hair-raising as anything you'll hear on a MMJ record.

"Run Thru" - ...or don't. Never really liked this song. This performance didn't changed my mind. Too long, for starters.

"Smokin' From Shootin'" - I like when MMJ is operating in this mode, this mood: more about contemplatin' shit, less about rippin' shit. Then, at the end, they start rippin' shit some, but it feels earned. Lovely.

"Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Part 2" - Nice to hear that drumbeat in this context. Love the keyboards, too. It really don't get more apt than the chorus: "This feeling is wonderful / Don't you ever turn it off." As for the ending...I won't spoil the surprise for you.

Set ends, encore about to start. In the interim, some NPR people start chatting amongst themselves. "I've never seen so many new songs so well-received," one says. (Rad.) When MMJ reclaims the stage, James begins with a cute story about Yo La Tengo and - even cuter - singing part of a YLT song. So precious. Anyway...

"Steam Engine" - Nothing but the hits from here on out, which is kind of a drag, I was digging most of those new tunes. ("HEY! Play 'Highly Suspicious' again!") This tune captures a lot of what MMJ does so well: the soaring, pretty, reverb-laden vocals; the intense dynamic shifts, from scorching loud to barely audible. In a word, EPIC.

"Lay Low" - My favorite rocker from Z, rhythmically one of MMJ's coolest tracks, and maybe the best record-to-stage translation you'll hear in this particular set. The twin-guitar duel at the end almost makes you forget how lame the phrase "twin-guitar duel" is. And then, that fucking Elton John piano comes in! Pure bliss! (Clearly, I'm glad they played this one.)

"Mahgeetah" - I've heard this song too many times. It's great, I just have no reaction to it anymore. Sorry, Jim!

"Anytime" - Kind of a funny song to close with. Notice the hush of the crowd when that keyboard first begins? By the end, I'm left thinking about how great - and how fresh - Z still sounds; and wondering about Evil Urges. I was curious and excited at the start. Eight new songs later, I'm more of the former, maybe a little less of the latter. (Except for "Highly Suspicious"! That shit needs to come out ASAP!) I'm going to buy it, no question. But will it improve upon Z? Time will tell, I guess.


NPR has a lot of great SXSW coverage. Come and get it while it's hot.

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