My Morning Jacket returns to New Orleans, turns up the volume at Champions Square

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My Morning Jacket performed in Champions Square on July 31.
  • My Morning Jacket performed in Champions Square on July 31.

With several New Orleans festival dates in its recent gig history, what does a "normal" My Morning Jacket show look like in this city? With its promotion to Big American Rock Band, there have been Jazz Fest and Voodoo Fest appearances — singer and guitarist Jim James haunted one Jazz Fest stage in a black bolero, spoke little to the crowd (other than referencing the late afternoon audience as "beautiful" and "pastel") and indulged in heavy, loud guitar theatrics. At a Voodoo performance, the band dressed in white robes, long white Zeus wigs and silver moon masks.

The band's only recent club gig was in 2007 at Tipitina's, not counting its intimate Preservation Hall performance in 2010 — that year, the band also played Jazz Fest and Voodoo Fest. It went on to play Jazz Fest again in 2012. The answer to the above question: not much different, thankfully.

At Champions Square on July 31, the band emerged to distant strains of mariachi music and performed a loose, powerfully loud two-hour, 21-song set, including several songs from its 2015 album The Waterfall, from the set's bouncy opener "Compound Fracture" to the dueling Zeppelin guitars of "Tropics (Erase Traces)." James — clad in a black-and-technicolor dream coat — steered the band through its folk and psychedelic back catalog, from 2003's breakthrough It Still Moves ("Mahgeetah" and closing song "One Big Holiday"), "Evelyn Is Not Real" from 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire, and crowd pleasers "I'm Amazed" and "Highly Suspicious" from 2008's Evil Urges.

"I love the sounds of New Orleans!" James said, stretching out "Orleans" to "Orleeeenz" for the first of three times that night. "It fills my heart with joy to be inside these holy grounds. This is a holy place."

(It wasn't clear whether that "holy place" was where the band performed, right outside the hallowed halls of the Superdome, as a massive Tom Benson portrait overlooked the crowd.)

The band has become something of a rock 'n' roll heritage act, a constantly touring, roaring machine capable of holding court for two hours (and probably more — nobody in the audience looked ready to leave) at dozens of festivals, often as the headliner. On its own, the band is the same kind of beast. (Even its dopey, out-of-place reggae-inflected riffs were there, without a beach in sight.)

For the encore, opening act Lucius added stunning backing vocals and gorgeous double harmonies to the mid-album standout "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" from 2011's Circuital — the goosebumps highlight of the night — and an ethereal wordless chorus to Z's "Wordless Chorus."

With the band's affinity for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band — which My Morning Jacket has taken on tour, recorded with and brought onstage at its recent New Orleans shows — it's likely to return in its typically larger-than-life form. 

Here's the setlist:

"Compound Fracture"
"Off the Record"
"Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 1"
"Anytime"
"In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)"
"Spring (Among the Living)"
"Bermuda Highway"
"Rollin' Back"
"I'm Amazed"
"Evelyn Is Not Real"
"Believe (Nobody Knows)"
"Lay Low"
"Tropics (Erase Traces)"
"Phone Went West"
"Mahgeetah"
"Wonderful (The Way I Feel)"
"Wordless Chorus"
"Victory Dance"
"Highly Suspicious"
"Holdin' on to Black Metal"
"One Big Holiday"


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