My Morning Jacket: Okonokos

One of the downsides of presenting yourself in print form as a jaded, bitter cynic, who communicates exclusively through ill-thought out insults and convoluted metaphors, is that when you genuinely enjoy something, it makes it hard to write a review of it without abandoning every single trick you’ve come to depend on to make your writing even remotely entertaining. As such, writing a glowing review could probably count as something of a worthwhile writing exercise for a hack like myself. Unfortunately for everyone who reads my work, I’m an astoundingly lazy, deluded person, and I do everything I can to avoid putting in the effort it would take to better myself.

So, with a strong, masculine sense of impending awfulness firmly established, I introduce you to the subject of this most-likely pants-quiveringly sycophantic review: My Morning Jacket’s concert DVD, Okonokos. My review is approximately 3 years late, but hey: you’re not paying me to be up to date or relevant or coherent. You’re not even paying me.

Follow the link, ingrates.

If you’ve endured the ordeal of reading my somewhat confused, and very confusing, review of MMJ’s Evil Urges in the Things of 2008 section, then you’ll know that, on record, MMJ are all but impossible to categorise. “Rock” works as a catch-all term, I suppose, but when its meaning extends from the Germanic electro-stomp of Highly Suspicious to the quiet backwoods folk of Bermuda Highway, it starts to lose some of its descriptive force. In a live setting, however, it all starts to make a lot more sense. All the various studio styles coalesce into what could be called a signature “sound” – and coincidentally, you’d be hard pushed to find a better summation of that sound than “rock”.

They’re not reinventing the wheel. But why would they? The wheel is fine; it hasn’t been reinvented in ages. All that’s happened recently is that people have started putting stupid blue spinners on them, and made themselves look like gigantic Tim Westwood-esque tossers. So with the wheel wisely left well enough alone, MMJ can focus on what’s important: being unwaveringly brilliant.

From the minute the bassy keyboards start Wordless Chorus to the final decimating, string-breaking guitar onslaught of Mahgeetah, Jim James and co never really let up on the dual guitar – and often duelling guitar – attack, but they do just enough to temper the dynamics so as not to fatigue the audience. After coming out swinging for the first few songs, they slow things down with the folky, pedal steel-laden Golden, which makes for a beautiful respite before diving right back into what I like to call the “Thirty Minute Trilogy”.

It’s something of an exaggeration, but not much. Lay Low, Dondante, and Run Thru follow each other, three near-ten minute epics in a row. Normally, I’d say it was a mistake; over egging the pudding, or some other rubbish cliché like that. But in this case, it works perfectly. (Told you this would be sycophantic.) It’s thirty minutes – give or take – of pure music. Pure drama. For those of you who actually bothered watching the Dondante video I posted a couple of days back, you’ll know it’s a majestic, triumphant eruption of a song. But that’s nothing compared to the beast it becomes in concert. They draw out the build-up to that beautiful explosion three minutes in, and when it comes, it’s glorious – all overblown melodrama and yearning, quickly seceding to five minutes or so of guitar and sax solo – a necessary catharsis.

I could go on. At length. The tremendous ambition in Gideon, the brute force of One Big Holiday, the joyous harmonies of Xmas Curtain, the unconcealed emotion of Steam Engine. It’s hard to use the word “perfect” without making this entire post reek like the hyperbolic ravings of an obsessed fanatic, but it genuinely verges on perfection. You could point out that James’ voice wasn’t quite at its best (he had a sore throat). Or, more understandably, you could argue that the pointless “man at party takes llama to concert” (don’t ask) frippery distracts you from the righteous, hulking rock that’s happening on-stage. But that, strange as it may seem, is what My Morning Jacket wanted, and they just don’t care.

And neither will you. There’s just too much brilliant rock music here to care about anything so trivial.You’ll be too busy either playing air guitar, or lamenting the fact that you have no soul.

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