music / Columns

Jam Central Station: My Morning Jacket

October 22, 2016 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

The “alternative” rock scene has gone through an amazing metamorphasis over the past 20 years or so. When I was growing up and in high school in the 90’s, “alternative” primarily meant “grunge,” and the moniker of “alternative” was used to differentiate Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains from traditional rock bands like Aerosmith. But, obviously, “alternative” really just means anything outside of the mainstream. Since 90’s alternative got re-named “grunge,” there’s been a whole slew of artists that could be classified as “alternative” under one definition or another. One band that I see falling squarely under that category is a band that often doesn’t get lumped into the “alternative” section. With their blend of folk and country rock as well as psychedelic music and even funk and soul, My Morning Jacket is a clear alternative to the typical modern rock scene.

My Morning Jacket got their start in the late 90’s in Louisville primarily as a platform for singer/songwriter Jim James to play his music. James had been involved in a handful of bands in high school and college, but was interested in leaving the hard-rock direction and found himself being more inspired by artists like Neil Young. He began writing and playing songs by himself in coffee houses and local venues before approaching friends and some other local artists that he knew with the idea of doing an album.

My Morning Jacket came together originally as a four piece, with James taking on most of the writing duties along with the production duties of their debut. They added a keyboardist in time for the release of The Tennessee Fire in 1999. While the album didn’t have an impact in the States, the band found significant popularity in Europe, specifically in the Netherlands. The band responded by touring Europe incessantly, along with continuing to work to build a U.S. fanbase. The followed up their debut with an EP in 2000 and a full-length follow up At Dawn in 2001.

At Dawn something of a was a departure from their debut release. While fans of My Morning Jacket would soon become accustomed to the band consistently changing up their style, the changes were surprising. The most noticeable was the addition of a keyboardist to the band, allowing them to explore different sounds in their music. The album was also significantly longer than their debut, with many of the tracks going over 7 minutes. This album allowed the band to begin building more of a U.S. fansbase, and they quickly became well-known on the indie music circuit.

As they continued their touring schedule, however, the band saw some upheaval. Founding drummer J. Glenn left the band prior to the release of At Dawn and was replaced by KG Guetig. Guetig lasted less than a year, however, and was replaced by a childhood friend of James, Patrick Hallahan. Hallahan proved to be a valuable addition, as his strong relationship with James allowed the two to work very well together. Their rise on the indie scene led to the band being signed to Dave Matthew’s ATO Records in 2002 for their major-label debut.

It Still Moves was released in 2003 to both critical and popular success. The album got positive reviews almost across the board, both for James’ voice and songwriting and for the band’s work. The band made their first of many appearances at Bonnaroo that year, and, while their sound was usually identified as indie rock or country rock, their energy and improvisational ability quickly found favor in the jam band community as well. They toured the U.S. and Europe nonstop, and continued to gain fans through strong performances and word-of-mouth.

Despite success, not all was going smoothly for the band. While some members thrived on the constant touring, guitarist Johnny Quaid and keyboardist Danny Cash quit the band unexpectedly prior to their 2004 tour. Solid replacements were quickly found, however, and the band continued on. The additions of Carl Broemel and Bo Koster brought stability to the band, and allowed the band to continue without really missing a beat. They played Bonnaroo again in 2004, moving from a tent to the Which Stage.

The band entered the studio again in 2005 to work on their next album, Z. The album was a major departure from their earlier work. Instead fans got a much more polished recording, courtesy of producer John Leckie. This was the first time that James had handed off the production duties to someone outside the band, and the difference in results were significant. Gone was the raw, unproduced sound of earlier records. Gone were the reverb-heavy vocals (often created by having James record his vocals in a silo). What came out instead was an album that was heavy on keyboards and synthesizers and included new genres that the band had never explored before. Despite these changes, both critical and fan response was extremely positive, and their ability to change directions and reach new fans allowed the band to continue to grow.

The band tapped producer Joe Chicarelli for their follow up album Evil Urges. While Leckie was best-known for producing Radiohead’s The Bend’s it was Chicarelli’s work with Frank Zappa that inspired My Morning Jacket to bring him onto the album. The band wanted to focus on bringing their live sound into the studio, and they started by debuting many of the songs live prior to recording, including the 2008 South by Southwest festival. The album was released just in time for the 2008 Bonnaroo festival, where My Morning Jacket played an epic set that lasted nearly 4 hours and consisted of 35 songs.

Evil Urges saw the band get some radio play, something that had been largely absent from earlier releases. They took some time off in 2009 while James worked on Monsters of Folk, but returned to the road in 2010 with a variety of projects and shows. They did a residency in New York City where they played each of their studio albums over 5 nights and they returned to Bonnaroo in 2011. They also released Circuital in 2011, which was nominated for a Grammy. They debuted their “One Big Holiday” destination shows in 2013, and have continued that for the past few years. They even had the opportunity to do a joint tour with Bob Dylan and Wilco.

The band took a little time off in 2014 to focus on solo projects. James in particular saw his profile rise due to his solo work. They were re-energized when they came back to do work on their next album. The Waterfall was released in 2015 and again garnered the band some mainstream success and a Grammy nomination. The band also continued to rise in the festival circuit, being billed at or near the top of every festival that they performed on.

Overall, My Morning Jacket’s ability to gain fans almost entirely through relentless touring and word of mouth has been more than impressive. The band deserves their reputation as one of the most exciting live acts of the past decade. What’s maybe most surprising is the fact that the band is still growing their fanbase, and they’re still bringing in fans from a variety of different areas. My Morning Jacket is a band that has built their diverse fanbase through their original music and impressive work ethic. From hipsters to hippies, they’ve proven that they’re going to be around for quite a while.

Warren Haynes announces Christmas Jam lineup
Warren Haynes will bring his annual Christmas Jam back to the US Cellular Center in Asheville on December 10. This year’s lineup features Gov’t Mule, Bob Weir, Michael McDonald, Jamey Johnson & Alison Krauss, and The Last Waltz Band featuring Haynes, McDonald, Don Was, Johnson, John Medeski, and Terrence Higgins. A variety of “special guests” are also slated to appear.

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds plot European tour
While the Dave Matthews Band may be taking 2017 off, Matthews and frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds will be heading to Europe for a tour. The duo will spend about 3 weeks in Europe from March-April.

March 20 London, England—Eventim Apollo
March 21 London, England—Eventim Apollo
March 23 Dublin, Ireland—Olympia Theatre
March 25 Groningen, Netherlands—De Oosterpoort
March 26 Amsterdam, Netherlands—AFAS Live (Heineken Music Hall)
March 27 Köln, Germany—Palladium
March 29 Copenhagen, Denmark—Royal Arena
March 30 Berlin, Germany—Columbiahalle
April 1 Vienna, Austria—Wiener Konzerthaus
April 2 Prague, Czech Republic—Forum Karlin
April 4 Torino, Italy—Teatro Colosseo
April 6 Padova, Italy—Gran Teatro Geox
April 7 Milan, Italy—Teatro Arcimboldi
April 10 Lisbon, Portugal—Coliseu Lisboa
April 11 Porto, Portugal—Coliseu Porto

Umphrey’s McGee announce 2017 dates
Umphrey’s McGee announced their early 2017 tour schedule. This run keeps them booked through early February.

January 13 Atlanta, GA—The Tabernacle
January 14 Atlanta, GA—The Tabernacle
January 15 Atlanta, GA—The Tabernacle
January 20 Richmond, VA—The National*
January 21 Richmond, VA—The National*
January 22 Jim Thorpe, PA—Penn’s Peak
January 26 New Haven, CT—College St. Music Hall**
January 27 Portland, ME—State Theatre**
January 28 Albany, NY—Palace Theatre**
January 29 Rochester, NY—Anthology**
February 3 Detroit, MI—The Fillmore*
February 4 Detroit, MI—The Fillmore*
*w/ Spafford **w/ Spafford and Joshua Redman

STS9 announce 2017 shows
STS9 also announced a small handful of shows for early 2017. This short run only includes 6 dates in 3 cities.

January 20 Los Angeles, CA—The Wiltern
January 21 Los Angeles, CA—The Wiltern
January 27 Austin, TX—Moody Theater
January 28 Austin, TX—Moody Theater
February 2 Chicago, IL—Aragon Ballroom
February 3 Chicago, IL—Aragon Ballroom

moe. announce dates
moe. announced a set of 2017 dates. The dates start out with a pair of Florida shows scheduled around Jam Cruise and include a run up the east coast.

January 19 Ft. Lauderdale, FL—Revolution Live
January 20-25 Miami, FL—Jam Cruise 15
January 26 St. Petersburg, FL—Jannus Live
January 27 Orlando, FL—The Plaza Live
January 28 Athens, GA—Georgia Theatre
January 31 Knoxville, TN—Bijou Theatre
February 2 TBA
February 3 South Burlington, VT—Higher Ground
February 4 Northampton, MA—Calvin Theatre
February 17 Nashville, TN—Marathon Music Works
February 18 Birmingham, AL—Iron City Birmingham
February 19 Atlanta, GA—Sweetwater Brewery

b>Suwannee Hulaween
October 28-30
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
3 nights of The String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket, Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, Big Gigantic featuring The Motet, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Lettuce, Grensky Bluegrass, The Revivalists, Snarky Puppy

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Breathless Beach Resort & Spa
Punta Cana
Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Joe Russo’s ALmost Dead, Lotus, Lettuce, Shpongle, The Floozies

Strings & Sol
December 9-13
New Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Yonder MOuntain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller & The Keels, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass

Jam Cruise
January 20-25
Sailing from Miami, FL
The Original Meters, moe., GRiZ, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Benevento Russo Duo, Lettuce, Kamasi Washinton, The Revivalists, The Motet, Beats Antique

Los Muertos Con Queso
January 25-28
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The String Cheese Incident, Bill Kreutzmann & Bob Weir with Dave Schools, Jeff Chimenti, and Tom Hamilton, Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass
February 26-27
Steamboat, CO
Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Brothers Comatose, Steep Canyon Rangers, Billy Strings

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
June 8-11
Manchester, TN

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI

August 24-27
Arrington, VA

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!