The conventional wisdom is that My Morning Jacket may be good on record, but they are great live. And after seeing them from the pit on Saturday night at the Santa Barbara Bowl, I would have to agree.
The band — bushy frontman Jim James on vocals and an impressive collection of guitars, Carl Broemel on an equally impressive collection of electric guitars plus a pedal steel guitar and saxophone, the powerful Patrick Hallahan on drums, the dapper duo “Two-Tone” Tommy Blankenship on bass guitar and Bo Koster on keyboards — came to Santa Barbara in support of their eclectic new album, Circuital, which was well-represented in their generous setlist.
The concert started with the first two songs off this album — “Victory Dance,” which had an amazing build-up of intensity, and the title track “Circuital.” For these, James wore a Roland SP-404SX sampler around his neck, which I must say made him look a bit like a suicide bomber but ultimately just spewed out some lovely noise.
Next up was the joyously bass-driven power pop gem “First Light.” Other Circuital tracks came later, including the reflective “Outta My System” and outrageous and catchy “Holdin’ On to Black Metal.”
The band also dipped into its impressive back catalog, including various tracks off their acclaimed 2005 album Z, such as “Off the Record,” which was heavier than the recorded version and ended with a cool guitar jam. Their range of styles is amazing, from the arena rock of “The Way That He Sings” and the reggae-tinged “Phone Went West” to the omnichord electronica of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” to the country-styled “At Dawn” to the almost-funk of “Highly Suspicious.”
It is clear that a lot of what makes My Morning Jacket such an enjoyable live band is James’ contagious energy, with frequent romping around stage while playing guitar to his fellow bandmates and the crowd. I’ll also put in another word for their diverse songs and sounds, a nice reminder that a band doesn’t have to have all of their songs sound basically the same.
Partway into the concert, James told the audience that we should yell if we saw the International Space Station overhead, due to become visible at 9:01 p.m. Sure enough, this appeared during “Dondante,” a special treat on a clear summer night shortly before the song slipped into an appropriately trippy extended prog rock outro.
Actually, one could say that it was all a special treat on a clear summer night. One imagines that My Morning Jacket would have kept playing for another hour or so, but the curfew thwarted that. However, I’d be very surprised if anyone went home disappointed.
Off the Record
You Wanna Freak Out
Outta My System
The Way That He Sings
Phone Went West
Slow Slow Tune
Holdin’ On to Black Metal
Smokin From Shootin
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
One Big Holiday
— Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.