08 January 2009

MMJ @ MSG (A Positively Negative Review)

2009 will be a year that will hopefully finally see real progress on the alternative energy front. And ifso, maybe My Morning Jacket will have an even bigger year in 09 than they did in 08, because these guys generate loads of energy. They powered Madison Square Garden and outwards over the 5 boroughs for a good 3+ hours on new year's eve. Powerful is really the only way to describe MMJ when they take the stage.

By now you've read countless recounts of what went down that night in NYC (or you haven't, in which case you probably aren't reading this). I've read them too, and some if not most don't really tell the whole story. Yes, it was great, yes it was a blast to ring in the new year with My Morning Jacket, but it wasn't without fault. Don't get me wrong, I loved the show, and what follows is seriously nitpicky, and a little bit of devil's advocate to everything else I have read out there, so just keep that in mind as you read on...

I have seen reports of a sold out MSG. Seriously? They sold out all the seats that were sold, but entire upper sections were empty and empty seats spotted the entire arena. I thought it was a bit odd when they announced the show, but assumed some big openers would be announced later down the line. When no openers surfaced, I just shook my head, those crazy Kentucky cats! I still think they really could have used a solid opener or two to boost up the evening (and attendance) a bit.

One of the special parts of the show was a 4-piece horn section that included sax specialist Jeff Coffin (newly of Dave Matthews Band fame) and Steven Bernstein (of Sex Mob etc) on slide trumpet. They entered the stage with the band and played the first two songs of the show, Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up followed by Evil Urges. When the horns stayed on for Evil Urges I got all excited thinking MMJ was going to get their moneys worth out of the horn section. But then they left and didn't come back for awhile. And really only showed up again on the various covers played, save Dancefloors. Between Bernstein and Coffin you had easily the two best musicians in the house, and probably 2 of the best musicians playing in the entire city on that night. They were sorely underused, I would have loved to have seen some horn arrangements added to more originals, and also some non-horn section horn action too, a sax solo here, a trumpet added here. That was disappointing. Some trumpet during Phone Went West would have been cool for example, and how about inviting Coffin on for the end of Dondante?

Which brings me to another thing, the covers were all great and well done (duets with Nicole Atkins were pretty magical). But they were all cut from a similar cloth, and really seemed to be picked out only to take advantage of the horn section. They weren't geared towards the band's strengths per se, nothing really rocking. That was disappointing.

I saw another report of the show that spent much of the review comparing MMJ to the Grateful Dead and the like. What now? My Morning Jacket's shows are pretty much the same every night. I made a mix for my wife before the show to give her a taste and told her I could say with almost certainty that 90% of the songs on the mix would get played. And I was right. They have a huge catalog at this point but don't choose to use it. The songs they play are played pretty much perfectly every night, which is amazing in its own right, but it isn't anywhere near what the Dead pulled off, and nor is the crowd or scene even approaching that of the Dead's. That was just a bizarre comparison. With MMJ you know what you are getting, and that is part of the allure. Anyway, this New Year's show, while special, and extra long, and with its special guests, and special covers, was not all that much different from any other My Morning Jacket show. They played the songs they usually play, and played them very well. They didn't pull out any rare tunes from their past... which I kind of wish that they had. In fact, not counting covers, they only played 5 songs that they didn't play previously at Radio City Music Hall 6 months earlier. And they opened and closed the show with the same 4 songs (not counting covers).

But like I said, I loved the show, had a great time, and am loving listening to it again right now. And that Dondante, Smokin', Touch Me, Run Thru segment of the show? Brilliant! Especially Dondante, what a version... (woulda been even better with Coffin though, right? right?)

Ended the evening (or was it started the morning?) here:

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