My Morning Jacket Go Big at Chicago Show

Jim James and company prove they've left their former jam-band rep far behind

Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
My Morning Jacket perform at the Auditorium Theatre on June 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
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My Morning Jacket front man Jim James may be a rock star now, but he took the stage at Chicago's Auditorium Theater last night still looking the part of Louisville's town weirdo. In a too-tiny black trenchcoat, white furry knee-high boots and and a flowery flowing scarf, he looked like a high-school goth kid who'd raided his step-mom's closet before hitting the stage. The band launched into "Victory Dance", the opening track from their latest, Circuital, splaying it out into a monsterous, prog-opus that made the recorded version seem wan by comparison. James stomped around the stage, a glowing sampler strung around his neck, punctuating his howls with what sounded like an eagle's screech.

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If anyone was doubting (and who would, really?) that MMJ could make the leap from being "the jam band for people who don't like jam bands" to something bigger – the band has done it. While Circuital is the natural progression of the band arcing towards a sound ever more delicate and huge, it's the work of a band that is (smartly) anticipating a growing audience. These songs are stadium huge; My Morning Jacket are now entering gods-of-thunder territory. Though their fans were happy to sing along and fist-pump to earlier anthems ("I'm Amazed") the new tracks had the drunk, bearded audience screaming like Bieber girls and air-drumming en masse.

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During the first 60 minutes of the band's two-and-a-half hour set, they came on like Van Halen of the hill people. James did a running knee slide across the length of the stage during "Wordless Chorus," which was stripped of all of its Eighties softness, and turned muscular and relentless. James donned a velvet-lined cape for the song and perched on the lip of the stage, raising the cloak over his face in a kind of peek-a-boo/Batman routine and then lowering it to let loose falsetto yowls into the mic.

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Once the quintet went through their walloping hits, they gave the audience a break and laid into softer songs and country tunes. Jones brought out singer-songwriter/fellow Kentuckian, Daniel Martin Moore, who he introduced as one of his oldest friends (Jones produced Moore's Dear Companion) to duet on "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)." Jones strung out the songs intro for a few minutes, waxing spiritual about the architecture of the beautifully preserved 122-year-old Auditorium, saying he suspected the gilt theatre had "been built by God" (it was designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan – close enough).

The singer insisted that his spotlight be cut and the houselights brought up low: "Leave the golden rainbow on!" As the room was illuminated with a warm light, Jones and Moore began harmonizing sweetly, and 4,000 joyous, drunk fans looked heavenward, to appreciate the ceiling.