By Josh Herwitt //
Ever since I can remember, the Santa Barbara Bowl has always been on my bucket list of concert venues to visit.
With its majestic views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the 4,562-seat outdoor amphitheater offers one of Southern California’s — and maybe even one of the country’s — most beautiful settings to take in live music.
But for whatever reason, whether it was the distance, the timing or just not being able to find the right band to make the 90-minute drive from Los Angeles worth it, seeing a show there had yet to happen for me.
So, when My Morning Jacket unveiled their 2015 U.S. tour dates, which included a Sunday night gig at the Santa Barbara Bowl earlier this month, it was an opportunity that I wasn’t about to pass up.
Following the release of their seventh studio album The Waterfall this past May, My Morning Jacket are one of rock’s biggest crown jewels at the moment. There are a select number of rock ‘n’ roll bands that can elevate their game to another level when they perform live, and for all intents and purposes, the Louisville five-piece has clearly proven to be one of them over the last several years.
But since 1998, when frontman Jim James founded the band with three members from the emo-punk outfit Winter Death Club, My Morning Jacket have done their best to live outside the box, paying homage to the Southern rock gods that have come before them while combining elements of folk, country and even dub and reggae to create a sound that is uniquely their own. In short, they’re a rock band, while psychedelic in nature, that seemingly has no limits. Of course, at least some of that eclecticism can be attributed to James, who has long served as the band’s primary songwriter, but the 37-year-old has also managed to surround himself with a talented group of musicians over the years.
At the Santa Barbara Bowl after an opening set from the recently revived, indie-folk project Fruit Bats (read our interview with the band here), James (guitar, vocals), Tom Blankenship (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums), Bo Koster (keyboards, percussion, vocals) and Carl Broemel (guitar, pedal steel guitar, saxophone, vocals) were locked in from the moment they walked on stage and started with “Steam Engine”, a deep cut off 2003’s It Still Moves. Though it was more than understandable to see the band play a large majority of The Waterfall for its first performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl in almost four years, there were plenty of other deep cuts mixed in over the next two hours, from “Bermuda Highway” to “Mahgeetah” to “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2”. After all, it’s no secret that My Morning Jacket have always been good to their most loyal and dedicated fans, and in once again taking song requests as part of their “Spontaneous Curation Series,” they made sure to dig up many of the classics from their seminal album Z, including “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record” one after the other in the middle of a loaded, four-song encore.
Yet, before it was all said and done, it was only fitting for James and his bandmates to end the night with “One Big Holiday”, a longtime crowd favorite about a “bad man from California” that put My Morning Jacket squarely on the map more than a decade ago. And as the curly, long-haired guitar wizard shredded his way through the single’s final notes, I couldn’t help but think that after waiting all those years to step inside the Santa Barbara Bowl, the whole show had felt like one big holiday to me.
Believe (Nobody Knows)
In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)
It Beats 4 U
Like a River
Spring (Among the Living)
Only Memories Remain
Tropics (Erase Traces)
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
Off the Record
One Big Holiday