My Morning Jacket’s signature brand of raucous, riff-heavy Americana is full of deep grooves and psychedelic roots rock flavoring, and when the five-piece group brought its show to the Santa Barbara Bowl, the band proved once again why it stands as one of the most talented and consistent contemporary rock bands of our age.
From the beginning of the show, it was all about the music. Carl Broemel’s soaring guitar licks and keyboardist Bo Koster’s melodies danced around the deep grooves laid by drummer Patrick Hallahan and bassist Tom Blankenship, while Jim James’s signature falsetto howled and floated into the Santa Barbara sky. The band was a mess of long hair and good vibes all night long, playing a little bit from each one of the groups’s several eras spanning their two decades together. Since its inception in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998, My Morning Jacket has retained its core group of members, with the current makeup performing together since 2004.
James didn’t speak to the crowd much, but the music spoke for itself. My Morning Jacket is one of a handful of touring bands that can vamp on its classics with a familiarity that only comes from playing the songs over and over again, while still finding new ways to make them carry the same impact.
Each song stretched into an instrumental showcase, with Broemel and James swapping solos and the band shifting tempo back-and-forth without ever falling out of sync — all five members glued together from thousands of shows together over two decades — with some outros teasing the audience with false crescendos, only to launch into another go-round, riding the groove together before bringing it back for a proper ending. It must be said that Hallahan has mastered the art of the drum outro, carrying each song’s climax to an ecstatic end while his long black curls swung in the spotlights.
When the band launched into cuts from its synth-heavy experimental electro album, Circuital, James brought out his signature Roland SP-404 drum machine — fitted into a strap and hung around his neck — as night set over the Santa Barbara Bowl, and the packed house was treated to one of the highlights of the evening, as James switched into a deep croon over the hauntingly hypnotic “Victory Dance,” with his whoops and hollers echoing like an otherworldly bugle call through the effects-heavy sampling machine. As the song drew to a close, the trance-like synth-driven chorus descended into a chaotic wave of light and sound, and it was impossible to think or feel anything other than being transported into My Morning Jacket’s new-age psychedelic world.
It was the same with one of the band’s most well-known hits, “One Big Holiday,” from the 2003 album It Still Moves. This is a band that just flat out knows how to rock. All five band members bounce around the stage, hair-swinging as they build up to the song’s verses, written back when James was dreaming of “better days,” escaping from town and living on “one big holiday.” It’s celebratory, and fitting that we see the band lost in the groove of this song, still touring the world and rocking shows 20 years later.