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My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses End Year on a High Note

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Both bands put on incredible performances at Madison Square Garden to cap off their respective tours.

My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses End Year on a High Note

My Morning Jacket front man Jim James confirmed what I had initially felt about halfway through their set.  In between songs, James started speaking to the capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden. 

"I can't tell you how great it feels to be back here at this holy ground."

When he said those words, I knew that this wasn't just a concert for me. It was a spiritual experience.

Last night was my first time seeing My Morning Jacket, who played along with opening group Band of Horses.  I had heard nothing but good things about their live shows.  I've always liked their music, but experiencing it live was more than I expected.  From my vantage point (the heights of MSG) I could see the crowd fully captivated by James and the rest of the band.  The lighting turned the group into silhouettes, producing melodies and riffs that the entire crowd got lost in.  Watching rock Jesus Yim Yames (James' other alias), with his long, flowing hair and bearded face, entertain the crowd somewhat enlightening.

The night couldn't have gotten off to a better start than with opening band Band of Horses, though.  I had seen the Seattle group two summers ago when they were headlining.  Although they didn't have as much time to interact with the crowd as they did then, lead singer Ben Bridwell delighted the audience throughout their hour-long set.  They transitioned quickly from song to song, playing all of their fan favorites like "No One's Gonna Love You," "Is There A Ghost," and "The Funeral." 

After their set, My Morning Jacket took the stage.  They opened with the first two songs off their latest album, "Circuital," which basically form one long song.  "Victory Dance" and "Circuital" started the show with an ethereal, atmospheric feel.  James crooned and wailed, Carl Broemel played some tasty guitar riffs, and the mood was set for a night of intense rocking.

What makes My Morning Jacket so good in my eyes is their versatility.  They can play lengthy, jam-style songs that speak to their Kentucky roots like one of my favorites, "Magheeta."  They can thrash and melt faces with the best of them on tracks like "Holdin On To Black Metal."  They can also get progressive and experimental with their sounds, like in "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2."  They even had famous jazz musician Brian Jackson, who has collaborated with greats like Gil Scott-Heron, come out and play jazz flute during their encore.  And they can slow it down and get emotional.  One of the highlights of the night for me was James' performance of "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)."  He invited Bridwell on stage to accompany him.  The song is so heartfelt, and when it's surrounded by these sprawling rock ballads, you couldn't help but become transfixed by the track.  It was a beautiful moment for sure.

The whole concert showcased the band's ability to fully entertain.  They played for over two and a half hours pretty much without stop.  They also appeared to have so much fun doing it.  James danced across the stage, Broemel and bassist Tom "Two-Tone Tommy" Blankenship rocked next to each other, and the crowd ate up every last bit of it.  The night wouldn't be complete without their signature track, "One Big Holiday."  Hearing the opening riff sent a charge up and down my spine.

I pretty much lost it during this one.  I busted out my best air guitar, screamed until I couldn't make any more sound, and maybe pulled a muscle in my neck from all the head banging. 

Usually "One Big Holiday" is their last encore song, but they had a special surprise in store.  Band of Horses came back onto the stage, and the lights turned red an green.  James started serenading us with Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home For Christmas," with Band of Horses on the backup vocals.  It really was the only way to end your final concert before the new year.

Both bands are finished touring for 2011, but starting in January My Morning Jacket will be headed over to Japan.  If you happen to be out there, I strongly recommend hitting up this show.  I can't guarantee you'll have the same spiritual experience I did, but I'm pretty sure you'll feel something when you hear Jim James for the first time.

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