My Morning Jacket @ The Greek Theatre, 8/12/10

My Morning Jacket had just put the finishing touches on a spectacular show at the Greek Theatre August 12, when our small group chatted about the virtues of rock and roll. See, my friend (you might know her) is somewhat of a rock maven and an MMJ devotee, a true patron of saint Jim James who would beat down a path to their show any day of the week. Your reviewer, while quite fond of the Kentucky five piece, tends to count other bands in his rarified air, including the inimitable Wilco.

We talked about the unwavering genius of MMJ - their peerless musicianship, James' perfect voice, etc. - and then compared their set to others we'd seen recently. Wilco, she said, pales in comparison to MMJ, especially their live shows.

This may be true, but that statement, in your humble reviewer's opinion, should be tempered. An MMJ show, I said, has more highs than a Wilco performance. But their lows are lower than Wilco, who are consistently solid.

But the highs of MMJ are real and epic, the proof of which was in ample supply Thursday. They unveiled new songs that left us breathlessly wanting more while polishing off their classics that sounded as fresh today as they did ten years ago.

Before anyone was able to experience that, however, they had to get past Avi Buffalo, the locals from Long Beach who opened the night.

Now, say what you will about these hip kid rockers - and people have said many a kind thing about them - but at their best, Avi Buffalo is a poolside, summertime kick: a mint julep. At their worst, they are a punchless pean to John Tesh with a lead singer whose voice could remove paint chips from an eight-walled room. Unfortunetly, though most cheered their performance, this reviewer was not moved enough by their hype to appreciate a sound that was nothing less than annoyingly acerbic.

Luckily, the wait for MMJ would not last long. At exactly 9 p.m., the band took the stage to a raucous crowd that managed to make up for in enthusiasm what the Greek lacked in filled seats. Opening with “At Dawn,” James, et al, slowly ramped up to what would be a straight up, honest to goodness rock show. First it was the drums - with Patrick Hallahan slowly beating a steady path, then it was James, whose voice reached high into the cool summer night and shot right back down, reverberating among the devotees who lapped up his pitch-perfect howls.

James and co. played for 45 minutes straight without talking to the crowd, which was just fine; the show they put on was communication enough. An extravagant blend of rich blues, yellows and reds swayed from the stage as the natural setting of the theater, set at the foot of Griffith Park, was an impecable tribute to Los Angeles.

James himself took note, pushing back against cliches that Angeleno audiences are a lazy, cynial bunch of malcontents.

“I'm feeling the love,” he said, before the love was immediately reciprocated.

On a night of many highs, the mountaintop peeked through the clouds when MMJ unveiled their newest track, “Circuital,” a meandering, brilliant seven-minute ode that might take its name from the path they've traveled during a decade's worth of shows, as much as their style, mostly pure rock with a pinch of experimental thrown in for good measure.

Still, while MMJ remains one of the preeminent rock bands. their biggest flaw is much too visible when they betray their own strength. For example, “Highly Suspicious” sounds as maddeningly annoying live as it does in studio. Also, the band couldn't resist turning the stage into the set of Studio 54 at times, including a particularly irksome two minute blast during “Smokin' from Shootin.'”

Still, these were blips on an otherwise impeccable show.

Finally, the friend and I agreed that seeing MMJ and the experience that comes with it: feeling enveloped by James' golden voice, being swallowed by a light show that lifts their sound and drowning in a sea of Hallahan drummery is as idyllic a rock outing as you're going to have.

Setlist courtesy Stereogum:

01 “At Dawn”
02 “Golden”
03 “It Beats”
04 “Gideon”
05 “Anytime”
06 “Mahgeetah”
07 “War Begun”
08 “Circuital”
09 “Where To Begin”
10 “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1″
11 “Dancefloors”
12 “Tonight”
13 “Wonderful”
14 “Dondnate”
15 “I’m Amazed”
16 “Highly Suspicious”
17 “Smoking From Shootin”
18 “End of Run Thru”
19 “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2″
—-
20 “Wordless Chorus”
21 “Off The Record”
22 “Steam Engine”
23 “One Big Holiday”