Review: Never Seen My Morning Jacket Live? Experience the Excitement on this Stunning 2021 Show

My Morning Jacket
MMJ Live Vol.2:Chicago 2021
41/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Anyone who has experienced a My Morning Jacket concert knows just how passionate, powerful, and riveting the Louisville, Kentucky-based band is. As the quintet has become more popular over the decades since its 1999 debut, their live prowess has grown along with dedicated followers and an ever-morphing sound.  

Even though MMJ’s albums are uniformly impressive, those songs explode when played in front of fans. On most nights, few other outfits come close to replicating the tension and release the group seems to naturally exude. They gel as a band in the most inclusive sense of the word.

It’s clearly something they are aware of, enough to start releasing official live documents of earlier tours. This is the third, following the DVD/CD Okonokos in 2006, and this year’s Volume 1 (from a 2015 gig). All are two hours, displaying the full range of MMJ’s talents. Not only are these recordings professionally mixed, but they duplicate only a few titles. Those who have seen how potent these guys are connecting in front of an audience will likely want to take some of that exhilaration home.

Even without the eye-popping visuals (a DVD would be great), this recording captures the excitement and edge a live setting typically provides. Frontman Jim James has gradually graduated from being very good to a great vocalist, occasionally shifting into falsetto and then bringing his voice down to a softer whisper, often in the same song. While MMJ displays their taut synergy and arrangements on shorter tracks such as the quasi-retro pop of “Lowdown” in 2001, they also push the limits on others. Longtime live staple “Dondante,” at nearly 22 minutes, gets expanded to nearly three times its studio incarnation which allows for its drama and intensity to ramp up substantially.

Although they were on tour to promote their 2021 self-titled release, only three of the 20 tracks are from that disc. Instead, they dig back to reprise, revisit and often reinvigorate gems from albums as far back as The Tennessee Fire (1999), infusing them with renewed purpose and energy.

Those who have difficulty describing MMJ’s sound won’t find it any easier even after spending over 2 ¼ hours with this music. They incorporate strains of soul, Southern, classic, space rock, psychedelia, blues, and even prog influences into what can be labeled roots-based rock and roll, although even that vague description doesn’t do them or their diverse approach justice. The closing “Phone Went West” even dips into reggae.  

It’s a terrific, moving, and often extraordinary performance, a perfect example of My Morning Jacket on fire; one that should make fans out of even those who have never previously been exposed to them. Lay back and soak it in.

(Note: At this time, the album is only available on vinyl through mail order [three platters, translucent orange] at the band’s official web store and streaming. No CD is planned, although a digital code is included with the vinyl purchase.)    

Photo courtesy of Big Hassle Media

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