Over ten airplanes surged past Forest Hills Stadium throughout last night’s concert, but not even the slightest hum of their engines was audible; the impact of My Morning Jacket’s tight-knit, pure-rock sound was much too powerful and enveloping to be broken. Like their last awesome show there in 2017, the steel-and-concrete acoustics of the 1923-built landmark made each note ring out with jaw-dropping resonance. If any passengers in the LaGuardia-bound planes had been peering out the windows on that side as they soared by, they might have caught an exciting sight: the 14,000-seat venue was packed with an overjoyed sea of people, their many raised arms swirling in the colorful strobe lights and smoke machine clouds as they danced.
Before it all went down, back when the sun was still slipping away, early arrivers filling the venue enjoyed the lo-fi melodies of opening band Warpaint; their set made for a mellow soundtrack as fans found their seats, hugged their friends, and protected their freshly-filled poster tubes. The L.A. indie pop rockers – comprised of Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa – created pleasant harmonies and a chill mood; “This is the part where we get a little bored, so people have to switch instruments” was one easygoing transition between songs. A highlight was the snippet of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” (1981) they snuck into their own “New Song” (2016). Musically, Warpaint cut loose the most toward the end of their set, when they got a bit more psych-y and induced some early grooving.
My Morning Jacket could jam in a dilapidated metal shed next to a battery-powered megaphone and they would still sound fantastic. Catch them in a dulcet venue like Forest Hills Stadium, though – which has been graced by The Beatles, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and other legends – and the acoustic experience is really too lovely to put into words. Jacket have an unparalleled live presence and sounded like they’re in their absolute prime; the deft Kentucky rockers are on another plane and their fingerprints are all over this era in rock (from their formation in ‘98 to present and surely far into the future). It’s also worth noting that the Forest Hills audience was a wonderfully engaged and respectful one; MMJ’s richly-layered sound snuffed out their enthusiastic conversations right away, and fans focused on singing every lyric in unison with ecstatic devotion. All of that was already a recipe for perfection, but fate had also thrown in such a nice summer breeze that it sometimes became part of the show; big rushes of wind that seemed right in sync with the music caused rollercoaster-esque cheers in the stadium throughout their twenty-song performance. Thus, it was a chills-up-the-spine kind of show in Queens last night – but when is it not with Jacket? Chills come as no surprise.
Closing out this summer’s short string of four tour dates, MMJ cooked up a stunner of a setlist that was 100% hits and spanned all of their albums – except for their first record, The Tennessee Fire, surely since they just played it in its entirety to celebrate the album’s anniversary in Port Chester, NY the night before. For fans who caught both New York dates, it must have been a treat not to have any repeat songs at all; Jacket’s setlist creativity is just one of the many ways they make every show special. Last night had so many climactic moments, it seemed like no one in sight could even stop moving, from beginning to end. During “I’m Amazed,” Jim James put timely emphasis on the line, “I’m amazed by a divided nation,” and repeated, “Where is the justice?” a second time, shouting it right after he sang it. Following that song, he greeted the New York crowd with a meaningful observation. “Hello! So beautiful to see that rainbow flag flying up there!” Those were James’ first spoken words of the night, and they were met with massive cheers. “We love you, New York – a place where everyone feels welcome and everybody feels safe. I love it so much. Thank you so much. We’re so glad to see you here tonight!”
Unforgettably, last night’s setlist also included a rare twist: My Morning Jacket took “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 1” straight into “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2” (from 2008’s Evil Urges) during the encore. It’s not often that both tracks pop up in the same setlist, let alone back to back (they’re even separated on the record, of course). We’re pretty sure My Morning Jacket have only taken Pt. 1 right into Pt. 2 like that eleven other times in history (twice in 2012, five times in 2015, three times in 2016, and once in 2017, not counting a couple of Jim James solo shows; keep me honest, fellow setlist-stalkers), making it even more amazing than it felt in the moment. As soon as studious fans picked up on the instrument changes happening onstage at the end of Pt. 1 and predicted that Pt. 2 was coming next, waves of impressed murmurs swirled around the stadium just like the glittering light cast off the giant disco ball.
Another interesting facet of last night’s setlist: there were no covers at all. The time they might have spent there was instead used for a huge jam: their psychedelic run of “Steam Engine” straight into “Phone Went West” lasted for nearly half an hour, and it was so damn nice and psychedelic, they could have honestly gone longer. My Morning Jacket were completely in the groove last night, to the extent that it seemed like all of their individual performances were heightened in some way. Patrick Hallahan was like the nucleus of it all behind the drums, pouring intense emotion and dynamics into his foundational beats. Tom Blankenship’s basslines moved everyone’s muscles and grooved so hard, their force often coaxed Carl Broemel and Jim James over as they soloed. Broemel was not only tearing into his guitar strings with exquisite precision, but getting up in fans’ faces to do so, to everyone’s delight. Bo Koster’s slick rhythms and sweet flourishes on his keyboards were essential at every moment. Koster was the only band member whose hair was secured beneath a brimmed hat; everyone else was a tornado of long locks and kinetic musical licks. When they weren’t running around interacting with fans, they all rocked together as closely as possible.
Jim James’ voice was beautifully warm and angelic as always, but it somehow seemed even more magnificent in Queens last night. He also brought some killer shredding to the scene, switching between what seemed like half a dozen guitars throughout the evening. Seven songs in, he donned his long majestic cape for “Victory Dance,” appropriately. Watching James deliver a divine performance in such regal attire, drifting through wisps of smoke and flashes of bright green light, was like watching some kind of sacred ancient painting come to life before your eyes. Adding to the otherworldly effect, he let out some of his stunning a cappella howls between “Off the Record” and “Spring (Among the Living),” stirring up wild echoes from fans that must have filled the whole surrounding neighborhood. When Jacket returned to play their encore – which was demanded not only with cheers, but thunderous stomping on the stadium’s metal bleachers – James spoke up once again. “So great to be here with you! This place is insane. It’s so beautiful. It’s one of the coolest places to play!” Then he made a comment that could have either been in reference to the distance of the furthest seats, or the venue’s vintage architecture: “It feels like you’re back, back, back,” he said dreamily. “Way, way, waaaaay back.”
You could tell James was feeling it on encore starter “Wordless Chorus” too; there was a spring in his step and extra energy in his delivery, like when he playfully repeated the words, “it’s all worthwhile,” in a deep cowboy-like voice that caused an explosion of squeals in the crowd. In that same song came one of the most emotional moments of the night. James built a crucial entreaty into its melody. “Let’s all sing for peace,” he urged. “Let’s all sing and pray for love, equality, and togetherness. Let’s all look out for each other. Sing for peace. Sing for the refugees. Sing out against the gun violence. Sing out against the corruption. Let’s love each other!” Bookending the entire show was a familiar gesture from James that appeared twice: he flashed a peace sign and a loving smile when he walked on, and did the same thing on the way out.
My Morning Jacket 8/10/19 Setlist
“The Way That He Sings”
“Victory Dance” (>)
“Off the Record”
“Spring (Among the Living)”
“Smokin’ From Shootin’”
“Tropics (Erase Traces)”
“Steam Engine” (>)
“Phone Went West”
“Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1” (>)
“Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” (>)
“One Big Holiday”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley