It was just a matter of time before My Morning Jacket made its way to Jazz Fest. With all but standing invitations from Coachella, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza, the Louisville, Ky., rockers have established themselves as kings of the 21st century festival circuit, heirs apparent to U2's stadium-sized crown. And for good reason: The bigger the stage, the better its show.
That truism, founded over a dozen years in front of steadily growing crowds, will be tested again Saturday — and not just at the Fair Grounds. Six hours after taking the Gentilly Stage, Jim James' gang will pack into the cramped quarters at Preservation Hall (called a "holy room" by James in an interview with Rolling Stone) for a sold-out encore at midnight. The two gigs fall in the middle of a nine-date spring tour with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whom James met while recording February's Preservation compilation, a star-studded fundraiser for the hall.
MMJ's penchant for unexpected collaborations — it has shared stages with the Boston Pops and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra — follows its proclivity for experimentation in the studio. The band's first two records, The Tennessee Fire (1999) and At Dawn (2001) are candlelit, alt-country classics, self-recorded in a Kentucky barn that's probably still haunted by James' reverb-shrouded vocals. ATO debut It Still Moves (2003) was a major breakthrough, honing the five-piece outfit's twin-guitar rock chops and earning legions of new fans, and 2005 follow-up Z adroitly switches channels between seriously sexy '70s soul and psychedelic synthesizer-voiced jams. Only 2008's Evil Urges, with its disjointed Prince-ly panting and Lenny Kravitz crooning, stands out as an inorganic misstep. But it could be that all those songs need is a few French Quarter hornblowers to make them sing. — Noah Bonaparte Pais
My Morning Jacket
5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24, Gentilly Stage