Jim James of The Morning Jacket at The Fonda Theatre in L.A.: Concert Review

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Spiritual ruminations meet perfected jam sessions during the My Morning Jacket frontman’s two-hour set, May 11.

Jim James @ The Fonda Theater – Concert Review

The My Morning Jacket frontman goes track-by-track through his solo effort before switching gears to an encore that included a caped cameo by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst.

Jim James‘ hair is gloriously alive. During solos where the My Morning Jacket frontman hunches over his guitar, the enormous mane overshadows everything else, giving the impression that strands of hair are furiously strumming the instrument.

The opening of James’ set Saturday at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, however, began in a more composed manner. The multi-instrumentalist and singer, attired in a suit and tie, led the evening with songs exclusively from his ambitiously titled solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, released Feb. 5.

Beginning with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” the bass-grooving album opener, James went track-by-track through Regions. The dense solo album’s spiritual inclinations were previously stated by the singer to be inspired by the “hazy dream” of a robot and 1929 graphic novel God’s Man. And the reflective interludes, chants and saxaphone solos  initially were a stark contrast to the Southern alt-rock sensibilities of My Morning Jacket.

“I use my state-of-the-art technology/Now don’t you forget it: It ain’t using me,” he crooned.

“Know Til Now,” the first single released from the album, featured a sound akin to material that producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) could’ve conjured for James Mercer‘s Broken Bells project or Beck‘s Modern Guilt. “Dear One,” a standout track on Regions, was punctuated by two precisely executed drum solos that drew cheers from the standing crowd at the packed venue.

Like the album, the songs transitioned seamlessly into one another, and James didn’t see the need to break up mood by adding any topical comments. His first words were a cryptic introduction to the fourth song, the sparse “A New Life.”

At times, the expanded live versions of the Region tracks took stabs at grand gestures. The bleak solos of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and the manic tone of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” appeared to be influencers.

Jim James @ The Fonda Theater

Jim James @ The Fonda Theater

Throughout the set, James ambled about the stage in a playful mood. He snatched what looked like a bronze ornamental bear prop and playfully twirled around before returning it to its proper place. And, periodically, he would freeze in position, stare out at the audience and smile as if there were some joke that the crowd was missing.

At the conclusion of album closer “God’s Love to Deliver,” James only briefly stepped away from the stage before starting the encore with acoustic tracks. His rendition of the latter-day My Morning Jacket song “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” was helped by stripping the string accompaniment that made the track sound rom-com syrupy on the album.

From there, the evening finally switched gears to head-nodding rock jams when James broke out material from his supergroup side project, Monsters of Folk.

During “Dear God,” the most notable track from the self-titled album, the hirsute frontman was joined by fellow Monster of Folk, Conor Oberst, for a cameo verse. The Bright Eyes singer appeared on stage wrapped in black cape and added his voice to a few lines before unfurling the cape with arms outstretched for the remainder of the track. At the end of the song, he covered his head and vanished offstage.

The set ended with three more Monsters of Folk tracks — “His Masters Voice,” “The Right Place” and “Losin Yo Head” — before ending with a rousing song from his contribution to New Multitudes, a Woody Guthrie tribute album, called “Changing World.”

Then, James inexplicably snatched the ornamental bear once again and appeared as if he were going to toss it into the audience. He seemed to offer it a prayer before setting it aside and leaving the stage for good.

Set List: 

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)
Know Til Now
Dear One
A New Life
Exploding
Of the Mother Again
Actress
All Is Forgiven
God’s Love to Deliver

Encore:

Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Dear God (with Conor Oberst)
His Master’s Voice
The Right Place
Losin Yo Head
Changing World

 

Phoenix Rock The Legendary Apollo Theater NYC: Concert Review

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Phoenix Live @ The Apollo May 13, 2013 – Concert Review

The beloved French band delivered a magnificent set at the legendary Harlem venue to an intimate crowd.

When Phoenix released their sublime fourth album, the mischievously-titled Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in 2009, things started to go a little crazy for the French four-piece. That release not only went gold in the States, but it also won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album the following January. When they played Madison Square Garden in New York that October, they were joined onstage by fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk. At Coachella this year, R&B crooner R. Kelly graced them with his presence. And on Monday night at Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theatre, there were no such gimmicks — nor did the band need them.

Save for a secret gig at the start of April, that Madison Square Garden show was the last time they played New York — to a sold-out crowd of 18,000 or so people. This, then, was a rather more intimate affair, as the Apollo holds less than a tenth of that number.

A few weeks after the release of their long-awaited fifth album, Bankrupt!, and augmented to a six-piece for the evening, the result was a gig that was as captivating as it was energizing. More than that, it was an incredibly personal performance. Halfway through third song “Lisztomania” — one of the finest cuts from their breakthrough album — vocalist Thomas Mars hopped offstage and climbed into the audience. While the rest of the band continued on with slick conviction, Mars weaved his way through a sea of bodies noticeably shocked that the singer was right there. Mars, too, seemed somewhat in awe of his surroundings — while the Apollo is far from a huge venue, it’s certainly a magnificent one.

Indeed, the electro-rock/synth-pop band’s performance, as well as their effortlessly cool demeanor, matched the splendor of their surroundings every step of the way. Smoke, spotlights, strobes and a digitized backdrop created specific set pieces for each song, turning them into unique, mind-blowing audio-visual sensations that totally consumed the room.

Each song, from the impossibly catchy harmonies of opener “Entertainment”, through the charming grace of “The Real Thing” and old favorite “Long Distance Call” to the energetic zest of “Armistice” and the upbeat dance grooves of “SOS In Bel Air” totally consumed the room. The band didn’t just play these songs, but they ensured that the room became these songs, and that the songs became the room. There was no escape from the power — not that anybody wanted to escape. But beyond that, it was also a performance of invention and innovation. “Sunskrupt!” combined “Bankrupt!” and both parts of “Love Like A Sunset,” while “Too Young” and “Girlfriend” morphed into one song with a perfect precision.

Interestingly, although the majority of the night was full of fun, feverish energy, the highlight came in the form of something much quieter and contemplative. After ending the main set with a sublime, high-octane and raucous version of “1901”, Mars returned with guitarist Christian Mazzalai for a sparse, stripped down version of “Countdown”. Beautiful, melancholy and haunting in equal measure, Mars sat on the edge of the stage while he sang, the weight of the world hanging heavy on every word that left his mouth.

But there was no time to get wrapped up in the quiet sadness of the moment — as soon as the song was done, the rest of the band returned to the stage and  immediately launched into the frenzied, climatic one-two punch of “Don’t” and then “Rome.”  After a brief thank you, the reprise of “Entertainment” filled the room and Mars was back in the crowd again, up close and personal for one final farewell. The look of awe and incredulity on his face as he climbed across the seats and stared up at those on the balcony above him said it all — a truly majestic, memorable night by a group very much at the top of their game, it was clearly just as special for the band as it was for everybody watching.

Set List:

Entertainment
Lasso
Lisztomania
Long Distance Call
The Real Thing
S.O.S. In Bel Air
Fences
Sunskrupt!
Too Young+Girlfriend
Trying To Be Cool
Drakkar Noir
Chloroform
Armistice
1901
Countdown
Don’t
Rome