Where and how do I begin describing the most amazing venue and show I’ve seen to date? In a word: beautiful. The sights and sounds that Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Colorado offers makes seeing a concert here into an experience. As gorgeous as the rust-tinged sculptures of nature are, hearing the sounds of my favorite bands, My Morning Jacket and Band Of Horses, reverberating off of them made the view that much more amazing. And as piercing as Jim James vocals were I can’t imagine them sounding as flawless in any other setting.
The Band of Horses set was short and sweet, but muted and not what I expected from the night. Maybe the winds were pushing the sound away from the highest rows of the amphitheatre or some other technical explanation. Whatever it was, it was hard to hear the nuances of sound that make BOH great. I felt bad for any first-timers and wasn’t surprised that I had to hush people during their final song, just when the sounds were on par with what I know of the band. Their song choices hit the mark and I wish the lovely acoustics of Red Rocks had afforded a more attentive audience. Despite any shortcomings “No One’s Gonna Love You” melted me as it always has and always will. Ben Bridwell’s aching high notes made me bite my lip in search of a feeling to match what was in my heart. I wished they’d gotten more time and that the winds of Colorado would have mellowed in their favor. Regardless, I was glad to see/hear them perform. [Side note: I was in line for the bathroom (shocker) as the “The Funeral” was announced to be their last tune and the gracious woman behind me offered to hold my place in line so that I could run to the railing and watch the last of the performance. Serious show karma for her, I cannot say thank you enough for show-goers who are that kind and considerate.]
My Morning Jacket appeared on stage as a sultry red moon was appearing over the skyscape of downtown Denver in the distance. Magical. “At Dawn” started while the master of ceremonies, Jim James, strummed along in a cape-like ensemble. Charismatic is putting it mildly. Throughout the show he donned at least one other cape and often draped a towel over his head. (I can only imagine the heat on that stage as the breeze only offered relief to us at the pinnacle of Red Rocks.) For well over two hours, MMJ played nearly thirty songs from throughout their catalog along with covers that surprised and meandering jam sessions that did not. “The Bear” rang out like church bells as James dialed down his falsetto into a rich deep tone and blue lights dimmed across the stage. “Dondante”, with its powerful lyrics, careened into hair flying and guitar wailing, while remaining true to its recorded version; a tribute and an ethereal soundscape that has made it one of my favorite songs of all time. “The Day Is Coming” gave its urgent cry with increasing tempo and vocals at their height of clarity.
The encore, which seemed more like a new set with half a dozen songs played, gave new life to the performance. As a light chill fell on the seats I felt the overwhelming desire for the night to go on forever. (Could we just start over with “At Dawn” at dawn?) The first chords of Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” caused me to clasp my hands together in a silent thankful moment, I’d forgotten I’d known they covered it. This song and this band have a tendency to sucker punch me in most delicious of ways quite often.
Jim James’ voice and the MMJ sound run the gammit of genres and pace. As a singer he lets himself twang when need be and reaches the epic highs of his range when he can and it is always done with authenticity and a backing of musicians that sound as perfect as a recording. As a front man James’ presence is a gift unto itself. Sometimes simply swaying, other times head banging with that gorgeous mane, and other times stalking about like a mad man- you get the sense you are watching a purely unique individual. While it has been said that nothing new can be found under the sun, a creative re-imagining can be just as good. My Morning Jacket pays serious tribute to their influences and offers gratitude to those that lift them up in the current moments. “One Big Holiday” could not have ended things more fluidly both in sonic vibrations and in spirit. A celebration for anyone lucky enough to attend.
My meager attempt to express my feelings about this show feel trite compared to the big life events that shape the lives of others. But for me this is as close to a religion as I’ll get. This amphitheatre felt both like home and like sanctuary. And music always gives me something I cannot easily define- be it hope or purpose or just an overwhelming sense of love and peace in the world: to say I was moved hardly does a feeling like this justice.
[Epic fail on my part... it didn't dawn on me that the sets on Friday would be unique to those on Saturday. Reading Friday's list now makes me wanna roundhouse kick myself in the face. “Rocket Man” cover, “Librarian,” and “Holdin On To Black Metal.” Wow.]