The sound of My Morning Jacket is mercurial and elusive.
Moods, dynamics and flavors shift constantly — sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly — from one song to the next but also within a song. It bears steadfast classic-rock traits but also taps into country, soul, folk, psychedelic rock and, occasionally, electronica.
For nearly two hours Thursday night at Starlight Theatre, the quintet from Louisville, Ky., kept a crowd of nearly 3,000 in its thrall, delivering a show that was as invigorating for all its musical facets as it was for its ever-changing moods and the performance of its expressive lead singer, Jim James, who has a flair for teetering on the brink of melodrama without falling into it.
My Morning Jacket is touring on “The Waterfall,” its seventh studio album, released in May. It would play five of its 10 tracks, including the show’s opener, “Believe It (Nobody Knows),” an anthem about faith conquering doubt.
The band followed with “It Beats 4 U,” a cosmic rock ballad from the breakthrough “Z” album; “I’m Amazed,” a straightforward indie-rock song with some tight harmonies and an instrumental that gave the jam-band fans in the house something to gnaw on; and “Spring (Among the Living),” a trippy anthem from “Waterfall” that mixed some shoegaze with Southern funk and rock, as if the Stone Roses had emerged from the Cumberland Gap.
And so the night went. With each song, MMJ veered in another direction but without losing its bearings. “Tropics (Erase Traces)” started with a long intro, then erupted into a heavy gust of stoner-rock. “Golden” was a jangly indie-rock song lacquered in pedal steel that had a strong Wilco vibe. The jammy “Off the Record” evoked the noise and mayhem of Crazy Horse and got the evening’s first rousing ovation.
James was backed by the high-octane rhythm section of drummer Patrick Hallahan and bassist Tom Blankenship, keyboardist and percussionist Bo Koster and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel, who moved effortlessly from guitar to pedal steel to the saxophone he blared manically during the long (15-minute plus) “Steam Engine/Only Memories Remain” jam.
James played guitar throughout, including a 12-string on “Circuital,” a broad-shouldered acoustic anthem, burnished with some soulful electric piano, that bore traits of the Waterboys or Big Country.
They ended the pre-encore set demonstratively, with an explosive rendition of “Victory Dance,” which ended in a tide of fog feedback and effects that sounded like gunfire.
The encore comprised five songs, almost half the primary set.“Bermuda Highway” was an electric-folk guitar duet between James and Broemel that had some Dylan in its DNA. The psychedelic “Wordless Chorus” radiated some classic soul, a vibe embellished by James’ falsetto.
The organ-fueled “Anytime” set up the closer, “Mahgeetah,” an all-time MMJ favorite that had people swaying and singing along until the end of what was one band’s journey across diverse terrains.
Believe (Nobody Knows); It Beats 4 U; I’m Amazed; Spring (Among the Living); Tropics (Erase Traces); Golden; Off the Record; Master Plan; Steam Engine/Only Memories Remain/Steam Engine; Phone Went West; Circuitual; Victory Dance. Encore: Bermuda Highway; Worldess Chorus; Compound Fracture; Anytime; Mahgeetah.