The first and only time I saw MMJ, was at Radio City Music Hall, during the Evil Urges tour, which was enough to put them in that legendary status. I’d consider it for my Top 5 best concerts, ever. Cha-ching! It was a tight, get your ass out of the seats and dance, rip-roaring rock show. Anything I could ever ask for was at this show. For whatever reason, I missed some of the following tours here in NYC, and that’s how bands/artists get put on your backburner and trickle into the middle shelves. Well, this time around, on the solo tour, the stars aligned and I was able to catch the solo show at a small venue. I was lucky enough to be able to get close and really experience the music, as one should—up close and personal.
What an amazing show!? A real game-changer. As if I somehow forget, I will no longer allow myself to miss Jim James when he comes to town. Noted: next time is Prospect Park June 18th. Mark it down! That particular show is with the Roots, so I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen, other than, I have to be there. Top shelf solidification. Maybe more as nostalgia simmers in my brain.
Jim James floats around the stage with an unhinged hillbilly edge one might find on Duck Dynasty combined with a sexy, suited and booted dance-y Jesus. He really makes getting from stage left to stage right and back look as effortless as omnipresent walking on water. I could just sit there in awe, at just how ridiculously awesome he looks doing it. You just have this solidarity, knowing you are in the hands of a badass. A metrosexual, Duck Dynasty, blue-ribbon badass.
There was also a degree of varying weapons of rockness. Sometimes, he’d set himself up on the right side of the stage, almost basking in the darkness like Batman, manning myriad different electronic devices (writer's note: I realized he doesn't really tinker with electronics after seeing him perform the same set at Prospect Park. Perhaps I was just too fucking high. Ha.). A “Flying V” guitar on a stand anchored itself around mid-stage and would occasionally find itself arched in the air like a spry Yoga back, to a sea of flailing hair in a severe rock head bang. As a Foo Fighters fanatic, Jim James is the only person I’ve ever seen that does this as feverishly as Dave Grohl. And, when things needed that extra oomph, he’d appear with a saxophone. Yes, a saxophone. A rare move for a bearded, long-hair rocker, but much obliged for those that enjoy anyone channeling their inner Jethro Tull. Ok, it was much sexier than that, but you get the point. Solos were all over the place, like silos in farm country. A glorious night for prog-rockers.
The opener to the show, and his debut LP Regions of Light and Sound of God, “State of the Art” is a new, updated, technologically approved take on humans and their relationship dubious with technology. I think it’s an interesting opener to the album, because to it sounds to me like James is delving further and further into technology (excluding “A New Life”) with MMJ and his solo work alike, and he admits as much when talking about this particular song, but it remains bizarre to me how much the album doesn’t feel like a rock record. It feels like a soul, and easygoing needle drop sonically, until you see this shit come alive on stage. This is one of the great ideologies to being an addicted concertgoer. The music, occasionally, is represented in such a muscular fashion live, it’s hard to remember what the music sounded like before it punched you in the face in person.
Will I ever be able to listen to this album with soulful relaxation after this rock show?
I loved the light show and presentation to this concert as well. The backing lights looked and emoted varying bright lights in the array of the suns’ glorious rays. It felt as if James was performing at the heart of the big mass of incandescent gas, and the rays were changing colors frenetically warming the audience with Earthy, yet strobe-laden pastures of retina confusion and excellence. If you were lucky enough to be blazed at this particular show, I’m sure you were taken into another dimension. You didn’t need it, but if there were a clutch time to partake in such debauchery, this was your sublime stage.
Until the encore, the whole show revolved around the new album. He opened the encore with, “Movin Away” off the Gossip Girl, err, I mean Circuital. Truth be told, I always kind of forget about this song, as I think of Circuital as an album with three amazing songs, a couple good ones and a few I’d like to forget. This particular song might make me reconsider that take, and begin with FOUR amazing songs when describing the album. Peering behind the vast shadows of: 1) “Victory Dance” 2) “Holding Black Metal” 3) “Circuital,” but it was so beautifully done, I have no other discourse but to romanticize it for life. I’m glad Gossip Girl fans will get to this same place, albeit in a different way. And, somewhere out there, there was someone(s) (I realize that doesn’t work plural) who appreciated this moment for both sentiments.
James then serenaded the packed Webster Hall audience with four consecutive Monsters of Folk numbers. Many of them seemed to take on a life of their own through silo seesawing jams, and of course only having a quarter of the band (M.O.F.) on stage, vocally. I’ve always felt like that was an underrated album. Obviously, with a super band, the expectations are out of this atmosphere, but I’ve never really heard it talked about in the positive way it should (the 80 on Metacritic seems higher than I remember). People are always hating and falsely superseding expectations. I think Mojo covered this sentiment the best with their M.O.F review, “this record is way better than we had any right to expect.”
He closed the show with another super band number, from New Multitudes, a Woody Guthrie cover album, “Changing World.” It has this kind of Lion King sound to it, but with some campy feel good lyrics. I could see it being a song for closing out a summer camp conference. It chimes, “Change the pen, change the ink/Change the way you talk and think/Change the tubes and change the tires/And change the thing your heart desires,” which brings the journey of this show full circle, almost playing ying-yang with “State of the Art.” If that was intentional, then, bravo!?
This is the kind of show that set the bar and upped the ante for everyone I see for the summer, and perhaps beyond. That feeling of a life changing show can’t be beat, and I can’t think of a better way to kick off the summer concert season. An upbeat and fluid mindset and new technology, to take things to the next level—life always finds a way to be better. Even against the grains of my own nostalgic naysaying, truly superseding my own expecations. Things are happening around the world, by the nanosecond, that are special and documentable. This show eased into those good graces without trepidation.
What else could a boy want?
1. State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)
2. Know Til Now
3. Dear One
4. A New Life
6. Of the Mother Again
8. All Is Forgiven
9. God’s Love to Deliver
10. Movin Away (MMJ cover)
11. Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.) (Monsters of Folk cover)
12. His Master’s Voice (Monsters of Folk cover)
13. The Right Place (Monsters of Folk cover)
14. Losin Yo Head (Monsters of Folk cover)
15. Changing World (Woody Guthrie, New Multitudes cover)