Have you ever tried to visualize how energy travels from the band to each individual fan in the live setting? Can you picture how the love flows back and forth as the music moves the people? If you could trace it like a game of connect the dots, you’d see a giant constellation within Forest Hills Stadium this past weekend. For their epic two-night return to Queens, New York on September 10-11th, 2021, My Morning Jacket cooked up two unpredictable setlists and pure sonic ecstasy. Both nights were an adrenaline rush, especially with all the excitement that had been building for two years since their last euphoric visit in 2019. The good vibe exchange began right away thanks to the gorgeous vocal power of Brittany Howard, who owned the stage with her 8-piece ensemble and their extemporaneous grooving. Howard also inspired with spoken-word brilliance during bangers like “13th Century Metal,” bringing out cheers with every stanza: “I promise to think before I speak / To be wary of who I give my energy to / Because it is needed for a greater cause / Greater than my own pride / And that cause is to spread the enlightenment / Of love, compassion, and humanity / To those who are not touched by its light…”
My Morning Jacket’s walk-on music this tour includes a spine-tingling orchestral glissando that adds to the thrill of seeing them take the stage. That was the start of New York’s screaming, dancing, crying, and laughing – the kind of WTF laughter that comes out when the music gets too mind-blowing to process. The stadium’s affection crashed like waves as the Louisville rockers bared all the ingenuity and synergy that has made them into legends. During night one’s 18-song performance, the boys sounded especially powerful on the new songs and pleasing all around, perhaps even tighter than usual from all that pandemic practice time. The five keep your gaze moving nonstop as they crush their contributions and wordlessly interact to stay in sync. Jim James was extra energetic on this Forest Hills run and sped all around the stage, seemingly on a mission to make eye contact with every fan. Yim’s heavenly voice and ferocious metal-tinged guitar solos caused jaws to drop, his shiny cape an apt visual in such heroic moments. Bringing that ineffable groove that makes My Morning Jacket sound so unique, Tom Blankenship carved out his smoldering basslines with eye-catching precision. He even caused bass-specific screams as fans tried to follow his fast-moving hands. Tom stayed locked in to the rich multifaceted drumming of Patrick Hallahan. Carl Broemel was not only wowing with his intricate guitar work, but busting out even more cool sax licks than expected on both nights. Bo Koster’s seasoned flourishes on the keys kept blossoming on the right like an ever-growing garden of color. Night one began with a bouncy “Wordless Chorus” that caused rollercoaster reactions, especially when Jim James emphasized “It’s all worthwhile” with a big grin. The otherworldly build that is “Circuital” graced the breezy night next. When Jim sang “I am older, day by day,” many shouted the “By day! By day! By day!” echoes so happily that the line turned into a kind of rowdy ballgame chant.
MMJ clearly strive for that one-two-three punch of a perfect setlist, because a muscle-moving “Spring (Among the Living)” came third. The words, “We animals roam / Out of our holes,” and “Among the living again / I didn’t think I’d make it” suddenly seemed prescient; from pre-show chatter, you could tell it was the first big live music experience after Covid began, for many folks present. “Lucky to Be Alive” from their self-titled ninth studio album (due out October 22nd) then made its fourth appearance ever, surging from an upbeat anthem of gratitude into a jammy psychedelic outro. Thematically, its folksy “Thanks for comin’ to the show” line toward the beginning makes it feel like a Lonely Hearts Club Band kind of wink at the camera. One of the most moving moments of the weekend was “Feel You,” the stunner from The Waterfall II with that fast triplet-laden guitar part. Its message about wasting time in the best way – by simply watching the world go by – was spot on as we all stared like zombies, trying to fathom the magic being created in front of us. It preceded Jim James’ longest statement of their Forest Hills run. “How are you all doing? Portions of the show tonight are being captured for a Global Citizen live event that we’re really happy to be a part of. They’re trying to bring us all together to combat crazy, crazy important things like climate change, and the damage that Covid has done, and they’re fighting for equality all over the world. We’re really excited to be part of this live broadcast they have going on that we’ll see and hear in a week or two. We’re really so honored to be a part of this thing with Global Citizen. And thanks so much, everybody, for coming out tonight. We’re so glad to see you again!”
When the guitar kicked in on a leisurely “I’m Amazed,” you could hear “Ohhh yeahhh!”s from New York that soon turned into big full-audience harmonies. The live debut of “Love Love Love” from their forthcoming LP was marked by an addictive bassline from Tom – and clearly a hit by the measure of dancing that ensued. The motivating line, “You take the shit / yeah, you deal with it / and you rise above it all” caused some major new record cravings. Then the opening riff in “Off the Record” lifted the GA crowd in a unison jump for joy. The dance-triggering favorite sounded snappier than ever, and Tom flashed a huge smile as he let out his signature pterodactyl scream in the second verse. And who could possibly swoon to an artificial tune when MMJ exist? A lovely cut of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” left us enveloped in Jim’s warm timbre, with cheers from NY after the lines, “I’m going where there ain’t no police,” and “I’m going where there ain’t no disease.” A neat sequence came next with “Believe (Nobody Knows),” “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall),” and the formidable “Run It” from their latest full-length release (The Waterfall II). The latter has a natural singalong effect with its spiritual “get back, get back to water”s, and Jim nodded to The Beatles when he interjected “Get back, Jojo!” This flowed into a tectonic-plate-shifter of a “Dondante” that felt heavier than normal thanks to the wide dynamic range of Patrick’s drumming. Making setlist dreams come true, new album rager “Wasted” made its fifth live showing and absolutely kicked ass. When the guys returned for the encore, it unfolded so quickly, it’s hard to even recall what happened before Jim was reaching out to us from the stage, singing “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 1” with that level of connectivity that makes it feel dedicated to you. MMJ then took us to the moon with a heartwarming “Anytime,” followed by the first “Phone Went West” of this tour. It’s already one of their most romantic songs, but it got even better with a surprising interpolation of “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone. Their magnificent first night closed out with “Mahgeetah,” and you could hear the happy herd of us discussing all the highlights as we reluctantly departed the stadium.
On night two, My Morning Jacket’s satisfying 20-song set was also livestreamed on nugs.net – still available and viewable for seven days. Setlist experts in the crowd were murmuring about its unconventional start: two hits and a rarity right out of the gate with “Victory Dance,” “Compound Fracture,” and the elusive “First Light” from Circuital. The exhilaration increased with old gem “What a Wonderful Man” and new gem “Climbing the Ladder” (from The Waterfall II). MMJ visibly have a blast climbing that ladder, especially in the awesome slow-down section steered by Tom and Patrick. Carl, Tom, and Jim all lined up at the front of the stage for another new favorite, the soothing and timely “Spinning My Wheels,” which set the tone for a very sweet “Golden.” The bit of silence before “Tropics (Erase Traces)” revealed the innate suspense of seeing MMJ live; you truly have no clue what they might play next, so you could hear people guessing and then gasping all night. Jacket gave Queens a pulse-accelerating “It Beats 4 U.” Patrick’s bold drumming at the dark start of “Evil Urges” was the stuff of percussive dreams. New York got a second live debut when they whipped out “In Color,” a burst of total rock and roll brilliance. My Morning Jacket then treated us to a two-track motown moment, nailing some Marvin Gaye songs: “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “What’s Going On.” Between the two, James said, “We love you, New York,” and that’s worth noting because he sang a lot more than he spoke on either night. Bo got tons of squeals on “Lay Low,” shining on that uplifting bl-bl-blink on the keys. During “Steam Engine,” when Jim sang, “Take your money and your drugs,” the air above indicated that the second part of that line was taken literally. That was fine timing for Jacket classic “Dancefloors,” which felt as good as a swish in a basketball hoop.
The night two encore began with the new LP’s first single, the clever and ultra-catchy “Regularly Scheduled Programming,” heightened by the deep growl of Tom’s bass. When they dove into a mountain-moving “Gideon,” Jim’s voice sounded as beautiful as ever, reminding us how that song seems made for a stadium. A scintillating “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2” had fans on the rail beating their hands in time with Jim’s unforgettable omnichord part. This long cut of Scream Pt. 2 even featured snippets of “The Bear” from their 1999 debut album, The Tennessee Fire. “One Big Holiday” was the big finale, and Forest Hills sang along so loudly, it was surely audible all over Queens. Out of nowhere, it was over, and that good-bad ache for more was back. Thankfully, MMJ eased off the stage slowly, as if they wanted to share just a few more moments together. Fans tossed presents over the rail, including a 9/11 shirt marking the date and honoring the FDNY, plus little mystery gift bags for every member of the band. It was our only way to return the favor: as always, My Morning Jacket wrapped us up in love. And that lasts much longer than the show.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos (night two): Shayne Hanley