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Jim James is a somewhat odd fellow. Band leader of the almighty indie rock, jam band hybrid My Morning Jacket, James has traversed through many spiritual and musical journeys during his fifteen years with the band. And now, with the release of Regions of Light and Sound of God, James has decided to strike out on his own. The album, a schizophrenic mix of rock, folk, neo-soul, motown, R&B and psychedelia, somehow manages to pull in all of the various influences that James has spread out over various My Morning Jacket albums and smash them into one coherent package.
For his show at the Royale, James decided to play his new album front-to-back for the entire first half of the set. Starting off with “Start of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.), James immediately began to slither and dance across the small stage. In stark contrast to his role of both guitarist and vocalist in My Morning Jacket, James fully embraced the role of a frontman, only occasionally touching an acoustic or his trademark Flying-V for a quick solo. Unfortunately, the sound at the Royale isn’t very great, so it was hard to hear most of the aforementioned solos, but it is always a great sight to see James completely going at his guitar; long, curly hair in full flight as he lets loose.
Backed by a four person band (bass, drums, guitar/sequencers, and keyboards), James really brought his new songs to life through extended jams and vigorous singing. The neo-motown of “Know Til Now” grooved and boogied around while the subtle electronics of “Dear One” were drawn out with a more biting guitar solo. However, the show really started to pick up by “A New Life”. One of the standout tracks on his new album, James brought “A New Life” into a new life by reworking it into a much more grandiose and bombastic live track. The ending of the studio version of “A New Life” only hints at it but live, James pulls the track out of its shell and really lets it dance and party around.
“Of the Mother Again”, another standout track, once again allowed James to get his slinky on, practically gliding around the stage while busting out some interesting dance moves. I have to admit, as cool as James is, it is a bit funny (and extremely awesome) to see a big guy with long curly hair and a beard donning a full suit and boogieing down before quickly launching into a saxophone solo.
“All is Forgiven”, a track with an Egyptian-tinged keyboard line, dramatically evolved into a heavy, stoner rock-esque jam before diving into a bass-driven electronic segment and then morphing back into the aforementioned stoner-rock jam that is beyond anything the studio version hinted at. My Morning Jacket is a band known for their live shows, so its nice to see James bringing this same work ethic and level of quality to his solo shows. “God’s Love to Deliver” ended the first half of the show with another drastically heavy jam segment, complete with James and his guitarist dueling with each other for guitar supremacy.
James decided to close out the set with a long encore, consisting mostly of songs culled from the many side-projects he has been a part of. However, he did treat the crowd to a solo rendition of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” off of My Morning Jacket’s 2011 album, Circuital. Acting as both a nice breather from the heavier moments prior and a wonderful chance to a catch James at his wistful best, “Wonderful” may of been the best tune of the entire night.
A handful of Monsters of Folk songs followed, including “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.). For the uninitiated, Monsters of Folk is a supergroup that is made up of Jim James, Connor Oberst, Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), and M. Ward. Formed in 2004, the group released their first (and currently only) self-titled album. Because of the group’s short lived touring schedule (their only tour was from October to November in 2009), it was a treat to hear some of these songs live.
Finally, ending the encore was a version of New Multitudes’ “Changing World”. New Multitudes was another group that James was a part of, forming to celebrate Woodie Guthrie’s one-hundredth birthday. The goal of the project was to create music for lyrics that Guthrie had already written; James released three songs on the album under his previous solo moniker, Yim Yames. The song started off as a soothing way to bring the set to a close before James launched into one last guitar assault. Truly one of the best guitarists today, it is always an absolute pleasure to see James really get into playing guitar. Now I can say its an absolute pleasure to see James command the stage like the natural born frontman he always was.