You don’t realize how often you check the clock until your phone is locked away in an impenetrable case. But aside from the funny cycle of realizing you have no clue what time it is, abruptly wanting to know, then remembering it doesn’t matter (an infinite loop for habitual phone-checkers), it was heavenly witnessing an intimate, unexpected performance by Jim James with zero distractions. For the surprise New York show, announced just one day prior and sold out in a flash, all phones and recording devices entering Rough Trade were sealed in Yondr pouches, which are kept in your possession and unlocked whenever you exit the venue. It was a no-brainer for the lucky fans who scored tickets to the exclusive performance, especially since it meant getting an early peek at Jim James’ unreleased new album in its entirety – and preserving the fresh music until the public devours it next month. Scientific research has shown that humans with healthy brains feel time passing more slowly than it really does, and if they ever expand that research to fans about to see the revered My Morning Jacket frontman live, the perception would surely be even more warped. The suspense was wild, caffeinated and convivial as fans attempted to sense how many minutes might remain until the show.
In fact, the no-device rule was an excellent idea for the very record that was being revealed – first at this New York show (preceding an appearance on Stephen Colbert), before its official release on June 29th via ATO. Entitled Uniform Distortion, the album was inspired by James’ view that “there is this blanket distortion on society/media and the way we gather our ‘news’ and important information…and more and more of us are feeling lost and looking for new ways out of this distortion and back to the truth,” as he recently explained in detail, noting that he’s trying to put down his phone and use the computer and social media less. In the spirit of his new work, and anticipating the sheer thrill of seeing him live, his fans were more than happy to comply. The few wearing watches could attest that the official start time was 11:18pm, and there was an outpouring of applause when he and his five-piece ensemble appeared. Adding a well-balanced dose of guitar, bass, drums, and backup vocals to Yim’s gorgeous guitar work and singing, his band was on fire and tightly locked in to his every whim as they jammed.
“So, thanks for coming out!” James said genially. “This is the first time we’ve ever done this. You know, the record’s not even out yet, but we just wanted to play these songs and figure them out.” His hair often floating like a halo amid smoke machines and strobes, he wore dark sunglasses, dark clothes, and a long navy trench, complete with a wide smile whenever his band dug into an awesome groove. His mouth nearly grazed the microphone as he sang with ferocious delicacy, easing into all the warm, mellow angles that make his voice so unique. He had Brooklyn so hooked, the crowd was screaming before his verses or solos even began, just imagining what he might have in store each time around. He and his guitarist leaned in close as they traded off solo sections and fast-breaking ideas, their long hair mixing into one flourishing mess as they stomped and tore up the stage. At one point, James even approached the drumset with a grin and started happily bashing cymbals with the neck of his guitar. Tuesday night’s setlist featured the never-before-heard 11-track album from start to finish – including opening song “Just A Fool” (the first single he released last month), gripping highlights like “Yes To Everything” “Over and Over” and “Too Good To Be True” (among others), as well as the elusive “Throwback (When We Were Young),” a song that some may remember from a handful of My Morning Jacket shows. The new album proved to be an inexorable dose of raw rock progressions, engrossing lyrics, and nimble-fingered guitar solos that surged to incredible heights.
The encore, demanded with a wall of loving cheers, featured “Here in Spirit,” a slowed-down take on a “A New Life” that was really special, and the thought-provoking “Same Old Lie,” finishing with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.).” In addition to the new music he revealed – which clearly wowed fans and had them shouting out heartfelt compliments – the Rough Trade crowd was treated to some candid thoughts on what it’s really like to build an album. “Yeah… it’s crazy, the phenomenon of making a record. I don’t know if any of you guys have ever made a record before, but basically…you make it…you forget it…and then, you have to learn how to play it again,” James laughed. “So that’s what we’re going through right now.” Later, just before the encore, he continued the thought with a celestial analogy. “It’s just the funniest process, because you’re just in this wormhole of making this record, and then you end up in space…and it’s like, ‘Whoa! How did we even make this record?’” Trying to fathom the magic that drips from Jim James’ sound and stage presence, it was easy to understand the weightless feeling he described.
Article: Olivia Isenhart