My Morning Jacket made one final stop last night at Madison Square Garden before a holiday rest. As part of the Circuital tour, MMJ played for nearly three hours with as much energy as if the band were just embarking on a fresh tour. Frontman Jim James came out on stage wearing some manner of sound processor around his neck, looking a little like Darth Vader. He’d don his signature black cape toward the end of the show, again looking very Vader-ish. The band launched into “Victory Dance” off of last spring’s Circuital, James spinning modern prophesies to an electric organ riff. Following up with the Circuital title track and “It Beats 4 U,” MMJ got things off to a great start.
With a setlist 24 songs long, MMJ had plenty of room to move around its catalog. “I’m Amazed” from Evil Urges evoked sing-along vibes among the crowd. There were some guests on stage too, with flutist Brian Jackson, collaborator with the famed Gil Scott Heron, helping out on a few songs. MMJ invited on a horn section for a few tracks, giving the show a kind of late-era Elvis vibe of a big rockin’ band. MMJ bandied about between Southern rock shakedowns, James’s balladeer numbers, as well as a little playful experimentation. At one point James fiddled around with that processor he’d been wearing Flavor Flav style. He let loose a burst of synth sounds from the strange machine, and the huge display hanging above the band flashed and changed seemingly by his direction.
Just when you thought the show was ending, it would keep going. And going. The six-minute “Mahgeetah” rocked and swayed with all manner of Southern swagger. Every crescendo wound you down just to rev you back up again. James took these moments to show off a little fancy footwork, doing some high knees and leg-thrusting kicks in time to the music. For a big guy he’s pretty limber. With every power chord blasted there was a risk of a boot inadvertently flying off into the audience. “Take a look at yourselves!” James shouted to the crowd between songs. “Look how beautiful you are!” Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. James, not that you needed it last night.
Photos by Alex Eriksen.