Ahead of their Red Rocks shows, My Morning Jacket are firing on all cylinders after rocking the Santa Barbara Bowl & Hollywood Forever

My Morning Jacket at Hollywood Forever CemeteryBy Josh Herwitt //

My Morning Jacket //
Santa Barbara Bowl & Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Santa Barbara & Los Angeles
August 16th & 17th, 2022 //

When My Morning Jacket made the “deeply painful” decision to cancel their three-night New Year’s run at the Mission Ballroom in Denver last year with the COVID-19 pandemic still wreaking havoc thanks to the rise of the omicron variant, it was a gut punch for the Louisville rockers and their most diehard fans, many of whom were traveling from out of state to see them.

But more than six weeks later, the five-piece would announce its 2022 tour encompassing 33 dates with most of the venues booked, not surprisingly, being at outdoor amphitheaters and/or open spaces with a lawn. Keeping everyone’s safety in mind has always been the band’s priority first and foremost, and with the spring and summer bringing us the warmest months of the year, there was no way MMJ were going to further risk experiencing any cancellations during what we’ve dubbed as “outdoor concert season.”

And yet even with all the precautions that had been taken by everyone, it still wasn’t enough to prevent more COVID misfortune when frontman Jim James tested positive in June, just a day before the band’s two hometown shows — its first in six years — were scheduled to take place. While the news had MMJ fans once again feeling bummed about the state of live music after the last two-plus years, James (lead vocals, guitar) and his bandmates in Tom Blankenship (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums, percussion), Bo Koster (keyboards, percussion, backing vocals) and Carl Broemel (guitar, pedal steel guitar, saxophone, backing vocals) have certainly put that behind them now after taking more than a month off from touring during July and part of August.

Believe it or not, MMJ in many ways sound better than they ever have after witnessing two of their three performances in California, starting with a return to the Santa Barbara Bowl last Tuesday only 11 months after their last visit (read our show review here) and continuing the following night in LA among the many celebrities now deceased — even “Toto” from the “Wizard of Oz” — at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

James, for one, has always sounded great at the mic and with a guitar in his hands, but he’s also never looked more at ease onstage despite his recent bout with the virus, shedding the big pair of sunglasses he once donned (as you can see here) for the naked eye — a clear sign that MMJ’s primary songwriter isn’t hiding from us if he ever was trying to previously.

My Morning Jacket at Santa Barbara Bowl

Arriving in Santa Barbara two days after making a stop at Frost Amphitheater on the campus of Stanford University, the clock hit 7:30 p.m. and MMJ went to work, diving straight into their self-titled LP that came out last October with “Never in the Real World”. James and company didn’t wait long at all to turn up the volume, however, with “Lay Low” subsequently sending the crowd into a frenzy early on. The six-minute track off 2005’s seminal Z has always been a personal favorite of mine to hear live and would quickly set the tone for the rest of the evening.

For a band that has always put an emphasis on mixing up its setlists and will rarely perform songs in the same order though, it was a couple of cuts on its debut album The Tennessee Fire that were surprising to hear midway through its standard 2 1/2-hour set. In fact, it was the first time this year — and just the fifth over the last five years — that MMJ have played “I Will Be There When You Die” while the acoustic “If All Else Fails” has been heard on solely a handful of occasions so far in 2022.

While other highlights in Santa Barbara included an extended version of “Steam Engine” with Broemel trading his axe for the sax at one point and just the third time “I Never Could Get Enough” has made it onto a setlist, it was the Hollywood show that grabbed more of the MMJ fanbase’s attention. Of course, the heightened interest around it was somewhat understandable considering that it’s not every day you get to catch a concert inside a cemetery, let alone one where rock icons like Johnny Ramone and Chris Cornell are buried, but the setting was, at most, half the story on The Fairbanks Lawn as day eventually turned to night.

Breathing life into “What a Wonderful Man” and James’ own “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” for only the second time this year and first since the jam-adjacent group’s three-day “One Big Holiday” destination event back in March, we had hoped that MMJ would be setting up for a special finish down the stretch and that’s exactly what they gifted us with a 17-minute “Dondante” that conjured up some major disco vibes. With the Z finale serving as one of several tunes MMJ has been known to stretch out when they perform live, it felt rather fitting to hear what James wrote after the passing of his late bandmate Aaron Todovich while being surrounded by a bunch of tombstones.

Even though MMJ had more music lined up for us before hitting the road for New Mexico, that was all many of us needed to hear to be satisfied. After waiting almost a decade for another “Dondante” in LA since their epic, three-night run at The Wiltern, everything else that ensued — from the one-two punch of “Wasted” and “Dancefloors” to a more abbreviated encore featuring “Wordless Chorus” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” that ended things on a spooky note — was gravy. After all, this is an act that has always kept its fans on their toes, and as MMJ gear up this weekend for their most significant shows of the tour with two sold-out nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, there’s no telling what’s in store when James steps into what he has coined “the birth canal of the universe.” Call it whatever you want Mr. James because either way, we’ll be there for it when the lights go down and the first note is struck.

SANTA BARBARA BOWL

Setlist:
Never in the Real World
Lay Low
Compound Fracture
Least Expected
Mahgeetah
Feel You
Victory Dance
Gideon
Holdin On to Black Metal
I Will Be There When You Die
If All Else Fails
Tropics (Erase Traces)
Spring (Among the Living)
Steam Engine
I Never Could Get Enough
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1
Love Love Love
Complex
One Big Holiday

Encore:
In Color
Circuital
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2
Wordless Chorus

HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY

Setlist:
Feel You
What a Wonderful Man
Off the Record
I Will Sing You Songs
Victory Dance
Evil Urges
Golden (dedicated to “Toto” from “The Wizard of Oz”)
I’m Amazed
Spring (Among the Living)
Complex
One Big Holiday
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) (Jim James song)
Love Love Love
Least Expected
Circuital
Dondante
Wasted
Dancefloors

Encore:
Wordless Chorus
Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2

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