Photos and Review by Timothy Dwenger
The Ogden Theatre was packed last Thursday for My Morning Jacket front-man Jim James’ first solo show in Colorado. While there was a huge contingent of 20 and 30 something MMJ fans, I also noticed quite a few folks in their 50s or 60s drawn out to Colfax on a weeknight by James eternally beautiful voice and his debut solo album. For the duration of the show one could look around the room and see expressions of wonder and bliss on faces off all ages as we all got lost in the experience together.
Having never seen Jim James on his own before, I wasn’t sure what to expect without his My Morning Jacket bandmates, but as soon as the shaggy singer took the stage and opened with the haunting first track from his recent solo release Regions of Light and Sound of God “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” I knew we were in for a treat! The sound was damn near perfect in the theater and James’ reverb drenched voice soared angelically to the deepest, darkest corners of the room. Though I had only listened to the album a couple of times before the show, it would have been enough for me to keep my eyes closed for the entire performance and just bask in the music but as the brilliant LED strips that served as the sets backdrop came to life, I knew that would be impossible.
As he ran through the album in order, he glided across the stage as if he were on ice prompting a few people around me to wonder if he brought in his own flooring to facilitate such smooth movement. While we eventually agreed that there was no special flooring on the stage, it was mesmerizing to watch him move so gracefully. He floated right up the lip of the stage countless times getting so close to the adoring fans pressed against it that at one point someone handed him a necklace which he took and put in his pocket. Though it was his vocals that were the highlight of the evening, James spent a good deal of time shredding a Flying V guitar that was on a stand at the center of the stage allowing him to play it whenever he wanted without it hanging around his neck for the duration of the performance.
Early on in the evening James disappeared into the wings of the stage as his drummer launched into a thundering drum solo only to emerge with a Saxophone in his hands to the surprise of many fans in attendance including myself. While he was no virtuoso on the instrument, he held his own and added some interesting textures to the songs.
These days it almost goes without saying that Jim James is one of the most creative minds in popular music and this show cemented that fact in my mind. There were moments where ethereal psychedelic jams conjured up images of Pink Floyd, and others when I could have sworn he was sampling a Stax era slow-jam and making it his own. As they blurred the boundaries between genres, James and his superbly talented band switched gears effortlessly and kept us all on our toes regardless of the fact that everyone familiar with the album knew exactly what was coming next.
About 80 minutes after taking the stage, he waved goodbye and slipped offstage in the haze of a raging feedback jam only to return a few minutes later for an extended encore that opened with just the singer and his acoustic guitar on beautiful versions of “Bermuda Highway” and “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” These are two of my favorite My Morning Jacket tunes so to hear them back to back in such an intimate setting made the show for me and I would have been happy leaving right then and there but James was far from done and as the band returned he launched into a four song Monsters of Folk mini-set. Featuring “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.),” “His Master’s Voice,” “The Right Place” and “Losin’ Yo Head” the only thing that was missing from these songs were his bandmates M Ward, Conor Oberst, and Mike Mogis.
At about 11:30 James wrapped up the show with “Changing World” from the collaboration New Multitudes that he had formed with Jay Farrar, Will Johnson and Anders Parker back in 2006 (the album wasn’t released until 2012). With lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by James, the Americana tinged song built to a crescendo that was a fitting end to a varied and inspired show that left everyone frothing at the bit for My Morning Jacket to return to Colorado in all their glory this summer on the Americanarama tour (July 31st @ Fiddler’s Green). James will also be bringing his solo show back to Colorado in September at the Telluride Blues & Brews festival.