|Jim James performed songs from his solo debut, Regions of Light and Sound of God, at the Fonda.|
May 11, 2013 @ The Fonda Theatre (Hollywood)
Although I've long been a My Morning Jacket fan due to my best friend's borderline obsession with their music, the first time I witnessed Jim James sing live was on his own as part of the original Monsters of Folk Tour in 2004. While there are currently few bands who rival MMJ's explosive energy and chemistry on stage, I was excited for another chance to see James shine independent from his main group when the tour in support of his solo debut, February's Regions of Light and Sound of God, was announced.
Upon initial exposure to James live, I was blown away by the incredible range of his unique voice, one that has been compared to everyone from Neil Young and John Lennon to David Bowie and, yes, Kermit the Frog. As he spun and leapt around the stage on Saturday night, though, another Muppet sprang to mind: Animal. With his mop of shaggy blond hair, he never stood in one place for very long – flailing his head as he strummed his Gibson Flying V, jumping in the air in front of Dave Givan's drum kit, moving in time to the music while blowing into a saxophone or standing at the edge of the stage singing and gesturing to the audience.
After a beautifully dark and soulful set from Cold Specks, led by the amazing Al Spx, James had the sold-out crowd singing along to Regions' lead track, "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)." Looking smart in a chocolate brown suit, matching tie and white dress shirt, he continued to move smoothly through his new tracks in order as they appear on the album, transitioning into the highly danceable, spaced-out soul of "Know Til Now" followed by a thrilling drum spectacle during "Dear One." "A New Life" also provoked audience members to sing along, while the instrumental beauty of "Exploding" and the searing guitars of "Actress" took their breath away. The rich yet intimate vocals of "God's Love to Deliver" brought the initial set to a close.
Returning to the stage for one of the most satisfyingly long encores I've experienced, James appeared armed with his acoustic guitar for a touching version of "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," off MMJ's latest album, 2011's Circuital. He then switched gears for the remainder of the evening with material from his work with Monsters of Folk and the Woody Guthrie tribute New Multitudes. During "Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)," his MOF bandmate Conor Oberst came on stage wearing James' trademark cape to sing a verse. Oberst continually pulled the cape across his face like Dracula as he traipsed across the stage, perched atop Givan's bass drum with his back to the crowd and his arms raised in a "V" then disappeared off stage.
James finished the night with three more MOF songs – "His Master's Voice," "The Right Place" and "Losin Yo Head" – and New Multitudes' "Changing World." As the song's final lyrics "Change the ways of this changing world" still echoed in the audience's ears James picked up a golden bear statue that had presided over the set and held it in front of his face as he bowed "Namaste" to each section of the crowd.