Concerts where bands play out an entire album are few and far between, usually only reserved for anniversary events or comeback tours, or almost exclusively Pink Floyd. However, in a recent five night residency at Terminal 5 (New York City) My Morning Jacket dedicated each evening to a single album, suitably themed, and with limited interruption.
Following support act ‘Hacienda’, a Texas-based rock and roll group with an endearing pulse and swagger, My Morning Jacket emerge as shadows behind a psychedelic curtain reminiscent of the relevant album artwork and building the drone of the album’s opener and title track; ‘At Dawn.’ A howl and a drum fill lead into second track ‘Lowdown’ which sounds as smooth as on record, and is followed by the aptly named ‘The Way That He Sings’ (cue mass ‘hum-along’) in an upbeat country-come-pop-rock double-hit suit. Melancholy ‘Death Is The Easy Way Out’ slows the pace and flows eerily into standout track ‘Hopefully’ where James is able to showcase his vocal talent to the utmost; note perfect and bouncing the lyrics off every wall and chandelier. The introspective trio is completed with ‘Bermuda Highway’ before the driving blues-infused ‘Honest Man’ which is extended beyond the album version’s near eight minutes for a thrilling riff-roaring crescendo. The pleasantly warming love song ‘Xmas Curtain’ complete with jingles and steel drums proffers the delicious refrain; ‘’you’re the criminal that never breaks the lock,’’ and adds to the nostalgia. Fading out, a kick drum hurls the band and crowd into ‘Just Because I Do,’ a raucous pop-rock number that sees the crowd rising and falling in unison to the dynamic change in tempo. Band exit, James stands alone and fumbles his way beautifully through ‘If It Smashes Down,’ sparsely picking at his banjo, a reverb enhanced vocal master class; howling, operatic, his chords hit the highest peak and enrapture the now silent audience. The deathly slow ‘I Needed It Most’ sees James tearing himself to shreds, belting out each line and slamming each strum pattern as if his life depended on it. Band return and ska-influenced number ‘Phone Went West’ is a finely crafted song with a catchy chorus and arguably the best ‘band’ performance of the evening; James’ vocals for once subdued, spoken not sang, but lengthy solos and uplifting instrumentals straying from the album version producing arguably the best ‘band‘ performance of the night. Psychedelic, throbbing, ‘Strangulation’ lives up to its name both on record and as a gig-closer, with all the genres of country, blues, pop, rock, represented on this album, the finale starts hard and heavy, turns once more into a rhythmic gospel number for the most part, before descending into chaos; driving bass, crashing cymbals, towering screams and feedback.
On record Jim James’ vocals are unquestionably unique and starkly mind-blowing on the more introspective tracks. Live, they somehow manage to sound even purer, taking off and soaring throughout the concert hall. For whatever reason My Morning Jacket have decided to do this series of album-focused gig nights, the outcome of tonight is that they make you realise, even more than you did before you chose to go, what an amazing album ‘At Dawn’ is, and also appreciate the thought involved in mixing the album, from opening song, through peaks and troughs, to the final track and unending afterthought.
My Morning Jacket performed ‘At Dawn’ (2001) in its entirety at Terminal 5, W56th Street, New York City.