Forest Hills Stadium, the Queens, NY landmark that has been graced by The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and other legends since its construction in 1923, is built in such a way that the portals leading to each section are encased in solid concrete. Thus, the quick hike up the stairs is strangely silent as all the outside noise is abruptly extinguished – in this case, the pre-show setlist-guessing and merch-related squeals from My Morning Jacket’s ecstatic fans. But the same dense architecture that plays tricks on the ears in those narrow passageways blossoms into a perfect outdoor amphitheatre up above; a sugar bowl for sweet acoustics, soon humming and overflowing with the dulcet guitar work of Gary Clark Jr.
Like all truly great rock shows – the kind that have the power to slice your concert-going timeline into a sort of B.C. and A.D. – Saturday night seemed to speed ahead in quick flashes of brilliance, and the soul singer’s opening set was no exception. Clark’s sinuous strumming on the classic “Catfish Blues” brought the early crowd to an impressive hush, and then they were hooked, trying to memorize each detail of his heavily-improvised performance in a way that preserved it. The cool certainty of his stance; the sharp glint of his sunglasses under the scorching rays; the tension of his muscles as his fingers finessed the strings – all striking traits among the subtle steps and expressions that kept him in sync with his smoldering band. The jagged, emotive riffs of his generous 70-plus-minute set – which included “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” “Bright Lights,” “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” “When My Train Pulls In,” “Our Love,” and “Travis County,” closing with “Numb” and “Shake” – were like something out of another era. His performance left us craving more, so the suspense for Jacket grew breathless as the July heat hit us in one last wave before sundown.
There are certain constants about My Morning Jacket that make music lovers anticipate their shows like nothing else – the magical things that lure irrepressible oohs and aahs from everyone’s lungs, yet seem to come so easily to the seasoned Kentucky rockers. Some of them are technical, bubbling right to the surface as they dove into “Circuital,” “The Way That He Sings,” and Jim James’ solo anthem, “A New Life” – Patrick Hallahan’s fierce drumming, Tom Blankenship’s supple basslines, the addictive quality of Carl Broemel’s guitar melodies, and the rich flourishes of Bo Koster on the keys; all things we can rely on every time. Other constants are just pure Yim things – not only the frontman’s divine vocals and intricate guitar work, but his long-haired, god-like aura, ever-present embroidered jacket, and his habit of draping his sampler around his neck with an unpredictable grin. Through the peaks and valleys of “I’m Amazed,” James’ stage presence was as spellbinding as the band’s one-of-a-kind synergy, each part clicking into place like tumblers in a lock as they rocked on with “Lay Low” and “Mahgeetah.” Then, the night went from memorable to exceptional when nature brought about a miraculous coincidence: a vivid golden sunset over the open-air venue, which dripped into view right when they started playing “Golden.”
The audience raised their hands high and swayed with great satisfaction as My Morning Jacket cracked into the juiciest part of their set, easing from “Tropics (Erase Traces)” into “I Will Sing You Songs,” followed by “Compound Fracture,” “Evil Urges,” and the heroic chords of “Gideon.” This all led up to an epic, nonstop jam from “Spring (Among the Living)” into a borderline evil “Dondante” – whose slow and tender build pushed the song well over the 15-minute mark – straight into “Victory Dance” and finishing with the end of “Run Thru.” After their fans’ passionate shoutalong to “Off The Record” and the unified awe at an 11-minute run of “Phone Went West,” you could tell there was no chance in hell MMJ would be leaving without an encore – which was demanded with thunderous stomping on the arena’s reverberating bleachers. Returning with James’ “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” a chilling “Wordless Chorus,” “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2,” and the real finale, “One Big Holiday,” Jacket seemed to put an extra burst of energy behind every note they played.
Clocking in at around two and a half hours, the 22-song show was really something special for the New York crowd, and you could tell My Morning Jacket hadn’t wasted a single moment before the neighborhood’s strict noise curfew. In fact, one of the most mind-blowing things about the show was not something they did, but something they didn’t do – address the audience. Yes, it was a genuine Wordless Chorus; not a single “hello,” other than the characteristic peace sign James flashed when they first took the stage. It’s a fact that’s still hard to fathom, because the whole show felt so warm and deeply personal. But you simply don’t need to speak when your music says so much.
Photos: Shayne Hanley
Article: Olivia Isenhart