My Morning Jacket, Rocking Its Way to the Top

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When My Morning Jacket first performed in Washington in 2001, it was almost comical watching the band play to a few dozen people in the tiny, now-defunct Metro Cafe: The stage was barely big enough to contain the thrashing hair of all the members. The Louisville quintet now makes the 9:30 club its Washington home, but even that venue could hardly contain the group's expansive, dynamic rock sound. By the time MMJ put the finishing touches on its Monday performance, the first of two nights at the club, it had given a perfect crash course on how to put on a big rock show.

Frontman Jim James and his soaring, reverb-drenched wail is the band's one constant. The songs touch on many styles, which is perfect considering its ever-diversifying fan base. Highlights included "Off the Record," which morphed from a catchy, reggae-tinged pop nugget into a spacey psychedelic jam, and the bouncy Southern rock of "Dancefloors." The beefed-up shoe gaze of "I Think I'm Going to Hell" also found the group in top form, but that could really be said for each of the set's 19 songs.

Everything from the pacing to the lighting was perfect. After opening with some crowd favorites from last year's "Z," they brought the energy level down a bit only to slowly rev back up before reaching a climax with the monstrous one-two punch of "One Big Holiday" and "Mahgeeta," on which Carl Broemel and James provided plenty of guitar heroics. The array of colored lights was mostly unobtrusive and much better than the "random images on a backdrop" route that many bands opt for. When the strobe and smoke machine made an appearance on the epic finale, the rumbling, sludgy "Run Thru," they were right on cue.

After two sold-out nights at the 9:30, an arena can't be far behind, and no band is more ready to make that leap.

-- David Malitz

© 2006 The Washington Post Company