The performance came on the eve of MMJ’s highly-anticipated return to Bonnaroo for the first time since 2015, and exactly one week after the release of their newest live album, MMJ Live Vol. 3, which happens to be their entire set from Bonnaroo 2004.
While it may have been a warmup show of sorts for the hyped-up set the following night, anyone who has seen My Morning Jacket knows that the band never fails to deliver a stellar performance. Even with a chatty, boozed-up Charleston crowd standing before them, Jim James and company were focused as ever, and the catharsis we came for was granted.
Wilderado kicked things off with a 30 minute set starting at 6:30, in the late afternoon heatwave. The indie folk band has been climbing their way through the scene since the release of their debut EP, Latigo in 2017.
They, too, are fresh off the release of a live album, Wilderado Live, released in April 2023. They expressed their gratitude for the chance to open for the great My Morning Jacket before launching into their earliest hit, “Morning Light”, and overall played a solid set.
My Morning Jacket took the stage around 7:30, with the blazing hot South Carolina sun just beginning to set behind them, and launched directly into “Gideon”, off the fan-favorite 2005 album Z. “Spring (Among the Living)” followed and included a vocal improvisation from Jim at the end about being in Charleston at sunset — the first reference to the city and the sunset of the evening.
By the time they reached “Circuital”, one could get the sense that they really were tapping into the circuits. The sun continued to sink lower in the sky behind the stage, and the band rolled non-stop out of “Circuital” into their biggest hit, the rollicking banger “One Big Holiday”.
When James pulled out the acoustic and sat down at the front of the stage for “Golden”, one of their signature songs that details a daydream about one’s career as a musician, the crowd chatter was especially noticeable.
However, his focus never faltered, and I was thinking to myself that the lyrics to this song were ever relevant: “And you, you always told me / No matter how long it holds me / If it falls apart / Or makes us millionaires / We’ll be right here forever / Go through this thing together / And on heaven’s golden shore / We’ll lay our heads”.
Of course, the music has made them millionaires at this point. Not only for their ability to play loud, but also for their ability to maintain focus and deliver a stunning performance of a quieter song, even as a large portion of the audience discuss their daily lives between sips of White Claw.
After “Golden” the band cranked up the energy again with two tracks off their 2003 breakout album It Still Moves: “Masterplan” and “Easy Morning Rebel”, before getting to the standout “Victory Dance”.
At this point, we were about an hour into the show, and the sun was just sinking below the horizon. It was perfectly timed, Jim pointing out the sunset during the chorus as he sung the line, “in the evening’s setting sun”.
Maestro Jim was out in full effect, as he crossed the stage from corner to corner improvising hand motions to the beat of the band behind him. It seemed the band was just as excited for the sun to go down as the audience, mainly due to the heat, but also to see the stage lighting factor into the performance.
The remaining 30 minutes or so before the encore was back-to-back bangers, starting with “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 1”, and into “Least Expected”, which contained a riff on Bob Marley’s “One Love”.
During peak moments one could truly see how well this band meshes together musically, especially as string players Jim James, Tom Blankenship, and Carl Broemel form a circle around drummer Patrick Hallahan and draw out the intensity as much as possible.
Hallahan maintains a furiously stable beat, acting as the glue, the line between controlled chaos and utter collapse, and we don’t think for a moment that he’s going to lose it as the guitarists reach their musical crescendos.
“Least Expected” led us into a raging “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal” followed by the full-circle moment of the second part of “Touch Me”, into an always-epic “Dondante”. It’s the type of sequence that makes you forget where you are. Broemel pulls out the saxophone as the whole thing erupts, taking it to the front of the stage to salute us goodnight — and you’re back on Earth.
Naturally, we knew it wasn’t quite over yet and they returned for a four-song encore that contained the Evil Urges deep cut, sort of bummer “Smokin’ From Shootin” followed by three favorites: “Off The Record”, “Wordless Chorus”, and “Dancefloors”.
Leaving Firefly that night, I was satisfied, but also jealous for those would would get to witness their set at Bonnaroo the following night, which was sure to be (and was, by all accounts), a truly special experience.
My Morning Jacket are on the road through the rest of summer, including a Saturday night headlining set at Peach Music Festival in Scranton, PA on July 1 that we are very excited to catch on the road. They will also embark on a fall tour later this year.
See a full photo gallery from the show below. All photos by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).
My Morning Jacket
All photos by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).
All photos by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).