My Morning Jacket @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Reverb - Reverb

My Morning Jacket @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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My Morning Jacket’s dizzying sampling of genres fired up the crowd at Red Rocks on Thursday. Photos by Laurie Scavo.

My Morning Jacket have been waiting their whole lives to headline Red Rocks, and for much of a glorious last Thursday night, it seemed they might keep going for what’s left of theirs.

The amorphous Kentucky guitar heroes jammed, howled, progged, emoted and howled their way through an expansive three-hour set that exhausted everyone save for the bounding boys on the stage, who surely would have played till sunrise if allowed. Their joy was palpable, their energy infectious.

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“We are ready to be born again in the fire and brimstone of the Red Rocks campus,” frontman Jim James told the cheering crowd, even though his very varied set would prove to be a challenge even for the most devoted of fans.

As for the estimated 8,000 in attendance, well, depending on your musical taste, My Morning Jacket is either the most festively multifaceted or most frustratingly anachronistic band on the planet.

“That was not anachronistic,” I was corrected afterward. “That was schizophrenic.”

At the very least, their set Thursday could be fairly described as “all over the map.” Great for the more detached of us steeled for anything Jacket was prepared to dish out. And boy, did they dish: ’70s-style classic guitar jams. Alt-country. Funk. Electro. Club. Psychedelia. Party Jams. Sonic experimentalism. Naked acoustic ballads and lush orchestrations that made you want make out with the first pair of lips that might make out with you back.

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The optimist calls that “something for everyone.” The cynic calls that, well, schizophrenic.

Over the course of the night, the band’s boggling musical dichotomies began to divide the crowd. They opened with three patiently, well-constructed jams from “Z”: “Anytime,” “Off the Record” and “Gideon.” By the time the band eventually entered into softer territory like “Thank You, Too,” the head-bobbing ceded to body-swaying, with Jones singing lovely lyrics like “I want to take you for all that you are.” That sent the grumpy air guitarists scurrying for beer, and the romantics into full kissing mode. The pheromones were swirling in the ever-present wind all the more when the lead guitar ceded to pedal-steel for songs like “Sec Walkin’ ” and “Golden.”

All night was back and forth like that. One minute, My Morning Jacket reminds you of Low’s “Over the Ocean,” the next they’re channeling Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” then you’re harmonizing like you’re a Beach Boy. One moment James was in full Frankie Valli mode. The next he’s Prince a la “I Wanna Be Your Lover” singing the clubby “Highly Suspicious.”

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As overwhelmingly fun as the guitar jams are, I’ll take the slower stuff any day. It’s almost perfect that one of their most moving numbers was titled, “Two Halves.” (The two parts of the “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” opus, off “Evil Urges,” were separated by 16 songs).

It was a gorgeous Indian summer night at Red Rocks. The warm, billowing wind was the band’s best friend and biggest nemesis. The gusts turned constantly piped-in fog into a powerful, dancing visual, which, combined with moody stage lighting, heightened the already erotic aura.

But that wind also kept James, who’s a fairly indecipherable vocalist in the best of circumstances, from being remotely understandable even 30 rows from the stage. Still, you felt, even if you didn’t understand, every howling note.

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The set was adorned with cute stuffed animal heads like lions, white tigers and panda bears. James occasionally donned a cape, which at times even gave things a “Jekyll and Hyde” Gothic vibe.

Of the more than 30 songs, most more than five minutes in length, the highlight for me was “Bermuda Highway,” the loveliest, bitterest silly song in a set filled with them (with sweet lyrics like “Don’t let your silly dreams fall in between the crack of the bed and the wall,” aside eye-rollers like “your ass, it draws me in like a Bermuda highway.”)

No matter what song type was for you, this was a night for spherical, elliptical musical wanderings, at times anthemic, at times primal. And you had to appreciate the work ethic. In this era of 75-minute headlining sets, My Morning Jacket is a hard-working throwback to the days when ’80s bands were regularly sending crowds home near the stroke of midnight.

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In this case, the end was worth the wait. Jacket saved “One Big Holiday,” the closest thing to a radio hit, for very last, sending one and all home on an upbeat note.

The only shame in being so well-treated by My Morning Jacket was that meant the Black Keys would be limited to just more than 30 minutes for their opening set — not nearly enough of the raw, rocking Arkon, Ohio duo that detonated the Ogden Theatre just a few months ago. But still plenty of time to demonstrate their unique ability to fill an even more unlikely space with just their drums, a guitar, vocals and reverb.

Think Foghat reincarnated as a two-piece. The highlight: A cover of Captain Beefheart’s 1967 “I’m Glad.”

John Moore is the theater critic for The Denver Post.

To see additional shots of Laurie Scavo’s photos from Red Rocks, click here or check out the photo essay below.

MORE PHOTOS: The Black Keys

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MY MORNING JACKET

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  • heather

    this is such a great review john moore. i had wanted to go but couldn’t, and really enjoyed reading this. you rock. i agree that red rocks just seems like a venue they were born to play, and i empathize with the schizophrenic nature of their shows. i saw them at coachella and found some of the juxtapositions of material to be a bit unsettling.

    AND! AND! Laurie scavo! amazing shots.

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