Holdin’ on to black metal, and their Southern roots


Guest post by Chelsea Hicks.

Perhaps the single most contradictory aspect of indie rock is the fact that independent artists and listeners alike are so often concerned with what’s cool. My Morning Jacket, who played last night at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, asks "who cares?," swaying with a towel on their heads and capes on their shoulders.

More musically skilled than Arcade Fire, and less self-conscious than the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket’s songs rely on two things: Jim James’ throaty, whiskey-soaked voice (which did not disappoint in "You Wanna Freak Out," and "Outta My System," which were speculated to under-utilize his voice) and the band’s bull-in-a-china shop drum sound, courtesy of Patrick Callahan. The two provide a sense of continuity through disorienting tours of reggae, psychedelia, hard rock, country and more, through the six albums that have transformed the Louisville band from earthy folk revivalists to eclectic studio tinkerers.

Neither the band nor audience forgot the past, with "Run Thru" launching into total improvisation—which the bro beside me dubbed "The Charlottesville Jam"—and "Mahgeetah," both from It Still Moves.

Despite having coursed through a few members, My Morning Jacket feels comfortingly like an actual band and jot just a front man with instrumentalists in the shadows. That palpable sense of band unity—they spent a lot of time rocking out in each others’ faces—is just one of the many nods My Morning Jacket unconscionably makes to that pure, forgotten form of old school rock ‘n’ roll.

After all, My Morning Jacket has never been much concerned with what people might think of them. James is secure, comfortable crooning at the audience genuinely during "Slow Slow Tune," affect-free. When he’s ironic, it’s not directed at his audience and it doesn’t feel critical—it more like an elephant-in-the-room self-awareness that he’s channeling both Led Zeppelin and Willie Nelson. We all got this watching his arsenal of machine gun leg kicks, especially during "Holdin’ On to Black Metal."

It’s even more pleasant to watch someone extending that lack of concern for judgment to their own audience: everyone who likes MMJ (fratboys and soccer moms included) is in their club and that doesn’t make them uncool. And everyone was cool when the green robotic-like eye from the album cover of their latest release, Circuital, shone over the crowd while "Victory Dance" washed over and either you were full-out dancing or just bobbing; it was more of a rock band family event than a club that half the audience wasn’t supposed to be pretending they belonged to.

Photos by John Robinson.