Exploring Regions of Light with Jim James at Johnny Brenda’s (photos, review, setlist)

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All Photos by Eric Ashleigh | showtographe.com

The energy was unreal. A couple hundred fans of exploratory Americana band My Morning Jacket (and its far-out frontman Jim James) packed into the cozy confines of Johnny Brenda’s last night for a full performance of Regions of Light and Sound of God, James’ thought-provoking and eclectic solo debut on ATO Records.

The album has only been out for a few weeks, but the crowd was massively responsive to the relatively new material, beginning with progressive opener “State of the Art.” Rhodes keys and James’ haunting vocals were augmented with a deep bass groove and a fierce drumbeat, and the room cheered wildly with each new layer as the man at the mic wrestled with the thought of technology that’s “supposed to make for better living, but are we better human beings?”

A surprising but certainly apt question to pose on a journey through eclectic electronic soundscapes. James later admitted that this was only the third gig with this new lineup, and they were “working out the kinks, figuring out how to play all this computer shit we’re not used to.”  On the album, the music is downbeat and somewhat mellow (though certainly expressive); with live instrumentation, it’s given an energetic lift, enough that James, clad in a three-piece suit, was dancing more or less the whole set.

The mood bounced between dub, rock and roll, jazz (with James on sax) and avant-noise freakouts. On the snappy single “A New Life,” his voice took on a Roy Orbison crooner’s tone; on “All Is Forgiven,” the energy was otherworldy and shamanistic, as though James were bringing the room on some sort of vision quest. When the last strains of “God’s Love” faded, the crowd once again erupted into applause as the players filed offstage.

Mostly unchatty during the main set, James let his guard down on the encore, expressing his affinity for Philly and telling the crowd that “Of the Mother Again” was based around a mutated guitar sample from an unreleased Dr. Dog song.

“We used to tour with those guys all the time, we love them,” James said. “And they had this one song, ‘Fat Dog,’ they played during soundchecks. I don’t know if it ever got released, but I recorded all our shows and got fuckin’ obsessed with this guitar lick, so it’s the one you hear repeating.”

An assortment of My Morning Jacket favorites followed, and if the room wasn’t already ecstatic enough, “Wordless Chorus” (an appropriate inclusion, since Regions of Light most easily parallels Z in its spaced-out, experimental angle on James’ songwriting) and “Victory Dance” (an unreal finale) easily put them over the edge.

Setlist
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)
Know Til Now
Dear One
A New Life
Exploding
Of the Mother Again
Actress
All If Forgiven
God’s Love

Encore:
Wonderful
Wordless Chorus
It Beats For You
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream
Victory Dance

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