Thunderclaps of the Truth: a review of My Morning Jacket at the Mann Center in Philadelphia (8/23/11)

Jim James rocks a duster! There is a gorilla on drums!

After last night’s show at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, I’m sold- My Morning Jacket are the truth. They are the next great American rock band. For a hot minute, I thought that band might be Kings of Leon- but they seem to be headed down the same road Oasis went down and that road apparently leads to court rooms and ill-conceived solo projects with ridiculous names. Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters are already great American rock bands. Nickleback is from Canada…so they don’t count. Plus their terrible.

The Mann Center is adorable, absolutely adorable. It’s nestled in the lush hills and lurking danger of Fairmount Park in West Philadelphia. The parking lots are fields, I think I might have a flat tire, and there is no overwhelming presence of Johnny Law to detour folks from enjoy some summertime tailgating. The people-gawking was top notch and Future Wife & I enjoyed Sly Fox beers and sandwiches from Wegman’s as we watched a potpourri of young adults pound beers, toss a Frisbee, run around gleefully with balloons filled with nitrous and hob-nobbers strutting around in designer jeans, expensive flip flops and sixers. Once inside, the venue is a classic, good time, American music shed- a simple amphitheater with well-placed beer stands, a comfortable lawn, and minimal security patrolling the more expensive seats; making it easier to dip in and out of better spots than the lawn seats we paid for.

Kim had wanted to see the opener, Neko Case, but she was just wrapping up as we headed up to the lawn carrying 24 ounce beers that cost as much as a Heineken at Yankee Stadium. We didn’t bring a blanket; we should have. I take the blame for that. Once My Morning Jacket hit the stage we stood up, but quickly realized that in our section of the lawn, we were the only ones to do so. So we sat back down, which was relaxing. The band opened with “Victory Dance,” the first song off of their new album and it was an intense opener with its thundering drums and a wild & loose James going guitar less, showing off his vocal pipes and playing with what looked like a touch pad sampler that was hanging around his neck. The lights were amazing. Kim and I talked about it later in the show- they were perfect; not too much, not too little.

I don’t get to many big old American rock ‘n roll shows anymore. We saw the Black Keys last summer, but that didn’t feel nearly as big as the show last night. Last night was one of those shows that is just worth the money you threw down for it. The songs were big, the band was big, the beers were big. Everything was just gigantic. The smile on my face was gigantic. Kim’s smile was gigantic. I couldn’t help but think that in a year or so, the crowds for My Morning Jacket will be gigantic. They have to be. The band is what’s next for us.

An added bonus- the show was seamless. With minimal effort, the band went from song to song with ambient music or drum beats or guitars carrying them into the next tune. There was very little banter as well; not one mention of the near-devastating earthquake that knocked over lawn furniture and cracked the Washington monument earlier in the day. I appreciated that. James was in his own world; a world that possibly wasn’t even affected by the earthquake. He owned the stage like a ringleader of big rock ‘n roll circus- all while rocking the duster. He performed the first two songs of the encore- “Wordless Chorus” and “The Day is Coming” with the duster covering his head- he looked like the Phantom of the Opera. “The Day is Coming” is my jam, but I was happy they played “Holding on to Black Metal.” But they didn’t just rely heavily on the new album and the middle of the show, the meat & potatoes, was largely made up of older tunes; a highlight being “Golden,” as well as the end of “Run Thru,” which emerged from the rubble and debris of “Smokin’ from Shootin” before they went back to a new song, “First Light”- a fitting summer jam for a fitting summer concert.

Let’s briefly talk about the gorilla on drums- My Morning Jacket’s beast of drummer, Patrick Hallahan. I used to think that the drummer for Rage Against the Machine, Brad Wilkerson, was the heir apparent of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, but I was wrong. It’s Hallahan. His snare hits are like vicious thunderclaps. I imagine he could crush acorns with his bare hands if he wanted too. He drives the band like an Ice Road Trucker slamming through the Arctic Wilds. I bet he’s a gregarious drunk.

The economy is tanking, our country might be broken, the president has the gall to take a vacation- but on a delightful summer evening, on a grassy hill with the tops of Center City peaking out of the tree line, none of that mattered. The only pressing matters concerning the hordes of happy feet at last night’s rock show was whether or not we’d get treated to “Maghettah,” which we didn’t. But that wasn’t a bummer. Perfect nights are without bummers. Last night was what American rock ‘n roll dreams are made of. Kim and I made the decision to go with My Morning Jacket over Kings of Leon last month, it just felt right. Last night didn’t just feel right, it felt amazingly right.

Good rock shows leaving you wanting more.

Last night left me wanting the world.

My Morning Jacket is the truth. I am a believer, I am tired, I am ready to go again.

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