It’s highly disconcerting when you walk into a gig and, even though a couple of hundred people are gathered already, it is deafeningly silent.
This is what we faced last night ahead of My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James’ solo acoustic gig in London, but such serenity can be excused, for we found ourselves acting all composed like in the house of God. The imposing stained glass windows bearing down on us, the weight of hundreds of years’ worth of history hanging over our heads, and the commanding hard-backed pews that constrained your spine all added to the hushed reverence of the congregation.
When James appeared though, the calm was briefly burst by mild hysteria, the likes of which probably unseen in this church since the last witch was burnt in the capital. Striding onto the pulpit shrouded in a black cloak, the bearded preacher launched straight into his musical sermon with little more than a smile.
In town ahead of the release of his band’s fantastic new album, “Evil Urges” (the sound of which is a brilliant progression from their signature country-soul-rock vibes), Jim had compiled a set list that cherry-picked the more restrained tunes from their back-catalogue that would translate best to these intimate surroundings, plus the more poignant choices from the latest
Accompanied by bandmate Carl Broemel on pedal steel and occasional acoustic guitar, Jim mostly stuck to his battered acoustic, though would often accompany himself with his impressive handheld Omnichord an electric source of preset chords and FX to haunting effect.
Songs that were stripped back from the forthcoming “Evil Urges” included “Sec Walkin”, “Look At You”, “Librarian”, “I’m Amazed” and “Thank You Too”, while reaching to “Z” for “It Beats 4 U” and “What A Wonderful Man”, then to MMJ’s “It Still Moves” for fan favourite “Golden”, and stretching back as far as “The Tennesse Fire” to perform “The Bear” and “I Will Be There When
In any other setting, this gig would have been tremendous and highly enjoyable, but in such a pious and venerable location as this, it was nothing less than divine. For a man so in love with reverb, he couldn’t have chosen a better to location to empty his lungs into his blessed voice reverberating around St James’ walls and filling every space within and what a voice! Sometimes whispered, it mostly soared in the most yearning fashion; a captivating wail that was beautiful as it was piercing. It’s a unique talent, and one best demonstrated on an occasion like this.
My Morning Jacket will be returning to these shores in July, where the amps will no doubt be turned back up to 11 and flailing hair will abound on stage, but in the meantime, this was an exceptional glimpse into the tender and sensitive side to the rockers, and one that should definitely be revealed more often.
The petition for a Jim James solo album starts here!