Last week I wrote a preview about the XPoNential Music Festival outside Philadelphia and identified the Top 10 acts to see at the fest (you can read that here). I feel like I nailed it- let’s compare below.

Top 10 things I saw at the XPoNential Music Festival:

  1. My Morning Jacket
  2. My Morning Jacket
  3. My Morning Jacket
  4. My Morning Jacket
  5. My Morning Jacket
  6. My Morning Jacket
  7. My Morning Jacket
  8. My Morning Jacket
  9. My Morning Jacket
  10. My Morning Jacket

I do this not to downplay the rest of the acts at the fest. Dawes, The Word, The Lone Bellow and Courtney Barnett, in particular, were fantastic. However, once I saw My Morning Jacket on Saturday night the entire premise of my planned article was thrown out the window. This will, instead, be a review of the show that stood above the rest this weekend for me. Read Conor’s great review of the rest of the festival here.

I wasn’t planning on covering the My Morning Jacket show on Saturday night at the Susquehanna Bank Center– only planned to attend and write about the other acts of the day, but after having one of the greatest concert experiences of my life, I felt compelled to take a shot at conveying my thoughts. This was my ninth Jacket show, first since The Waterfall was released and my first ever show with seats in the front row (thanks XPN Member pre-sale!).

The anticipation level for the show built throughout my day at the festival. The realization that I was actually on the rail hit me like a ton of bricks once I finally walked down to my front row seats prior to show opener St. Vincent taking the stage. I have been on the rail before in small festival environments and small club shows, but never for a show like this at a large amphitheater. I am not one to camp out for a long amount of time in order to be crushed up against a rail by a mass of people, so having reserved seats made all the difference. You almost forget where you are until you look back to see the sea of bodies cascaded behind you.

St. Vincent took the stage at 8pm and immediately drew the attention of everybody in the venue. She is an artist that I am not terribly familiar with (I know that as a music fan I should take the time to get more into her), but she won me over right away. She’s both incredibly creepy and intensely beautiful at the same time. She has an intimidating presence about her and absolutely owns the stage. The killer outfit, the choreographed movements and the witty aside about weird Hall & Oates lyrics didn’t overshadow the simple fact that Annie Clark is an incredibly underrated guitar player – this woman absolutely shreds.

The experience of watching a big show like this one on the rail is hard to express – it’s even harder to express when you’re there for your favorite band. You understand that there is this titanic performance going on to thousands of people behind you, yet it feels intimate. In my memory, MMJ played a show for me, my wife, my friend Bill and the 12 or so other Jacket fanatics that were in my immediate vicinity. The crowd at large was white noise.

The band came on stage promptly at 9pm and wasted no time kicking off the set with “Off the Record,” a song that has built credibility in the years since its release among the Jacket faithful. Once considered MMJ’s attempt at getting on the radio, the song has transformed into one of the best conduits for the band to explore themselves in the live setting. The extended jam at the end of the song set the tone for the night. All worries of the festival set not getting the proper My Morning Jacket treatment were laid to rest immediately.

Next came “Compound Fracture,” the first of six songs they would play off The Waterfall, released in May. I remember first listening to the record and couldn’t help but think that they had their live shows in mind when it was written. “Compound Fracture” is a building, dance number that highlights keyboardist Bo Koster and allowed for the first crowd sing-a-long of the night as the fans all yelled out, “For who knows how long?!” in unison to close out each chorus.

Following “First Light” off 2011’s Circuital, the distinct drumbeat of Patrick Hallahan led into MMJ hit “Wordless Chorus.” A look around at the faces of the Jacket fanatics around me confirmed that they were transported to the same euphoric state while singing along to the song’s wordless chorus. Less than 24 hours after backing Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters at an already-legendary Newport Folk Festival set and lead-singer Jim James’ impromptu appearance at a Deer Tick after party at Newport Blues Café, MMJ were intent on again proving that they are, in fact, the innovators. There are no imitators.

The Jacket trained rolled on with the title track to 2008’s Evil Urges following by “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall).” At this point, the pit had been dancing and rocking out from the jump. As if Jim James and the crew wanted to give the hardcore fans a gift, he did it in the form of “Master Plan” followed by “Lay Low.” A perfect pairing of throwback jams from what are considered by most as the band’s best two albums, 2005’s Z and 2003’s It Still Moves, respectively.

From there, it turned into the Carl Broemel show. Each guitar riff increased in intensity and our enthusiasm rose with it. “Dondante,” a beautifully complex song with high highs and low lows, was underscored by James and Broemel trading guitar parts with the latter returning to nail two saxophone solos towards the end of the extended 17-minute jam filled with James’ reverb-heavy vocals.

“Dondante” has been used as a set closer for MMJ fairly often, so I had assumed that we would be getting a shortened festival set and this would be it. Boy, was I wrong. The band came right back with two more tunes off The Waterfall, including “Tropics,” which is another one of the album’s songs that is great on record, has even more life on stage. The two new tracks led right into a murderer’s row of Jacket hits to finish off the set, but before those kicked off, James told the crowd a story about seeing an amazing hippopotamus at the aquarium in Camden earlier that day.

If someone new to My Morning Jacket asked me to put together a three-song set for them to get a feel for MMJ, I may have them listen to the end of the main set Saturday night. “Circuital,” the live show staple off the 2011 effort, kicked things off and Jim James took over the show. Saving his patented falsetto until the end, “Circuital” features his driving vocals over a catchy melody on acoustic guitar before opening up into a full-blown rock and roll experience.

“Phone Went West” was the penultimate track before closing out with “Mahgeetah.” “Phone Went West” is a sidestep from the sound captured in the rest of the set, as the reggae-inspired track is a bit more chilled out, focusing on James’ vocals and the crowd sing-along chorus. About five minutes in, the band opened the song up, highlighting Broemel once again. “Mahgeetah” is as classic of a My Morning Jacket song as exists. It’s a song heavy on guitar riffs that belong housed in arenas. A band’s perfect set-ender should leave the crowd with an opportunity to expend the last of their energy and “Mahgeetah” allows for all the dancing and head rocking that you can muster, and the crew of Jacket freaks up front took advantage of it before the guys departed the stage.

The guys returned to a thunderous roar of appreciation. The band started with the lead song from The Waterfall, “Believe (Nobody Knows).” While Broemel was shredding guitar solos all night, James showcased his own chops on lead guitar towards the end of the song. “Victory Dance” followed, with James putting the guitar down and exploring the stage. James took to the Omnichord for the famed open to “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2.” The simple, melodic verses lead to epic choruses that make you want to feel as present as you can at that moment, but that also make you leave your current state of being. That song, played within the encore of already-incredible show, is the epitome of what a My Morning Jacket experience is.

My Morning Jacket is a band that is impossible to describe. I have written reviews of their shows and albums before and at some point fusing multiple genres together to describe the band is meaningless. Sure, they probably are a psychedelic americana jam alt-country southern funk indie band or something, but the music is more than that. MMJ fans usually describe this feeling as “spiritual.” While it sort of feels like a cop out to say that in a show review, I can’t think of any better way to describe it.

With its unmistakable opening chords, Jacket’s raucous closer “One Big Holiday” ended the night. The song is always bittersweet – it’s euphoric but also a sign that it’s almost time to float back to the ground and return to your life. The Jacket faithful seized the opportunity to sing and dance together with their new and old friends one last time – at least until the next time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m doing missionary work as I constantly try to convince people to check out MMJ. I am confident enough in them that all I need to do is get friends into the venue. Susquehanna Bank Center was My Morning Jacket’s church on Saturday night in Philadelphia. I have spoken to three separate people the past few days and have heard the best thing you can hear about your favorite band: “Okay, I get it now.” I didn’t have to hand out any pamphlets or spout any statistics, I just needed to get them into the church and My Morning Jacket did the rest – as usual.

Check out XPN’s Photo Recap here.

7/25/15 – XPN Fest – Susquehanna Bank Center – Camden, NJ

Set List:
Off the Record
Compound Fracture
First Light
Wordless Chorus
Evil Urges
In Its Infancy (The Watefall)
Master Plan
Lay Low
Spring (Among the Living)
Dondante
Tropics (Erase Traces)
Thin Line
Circuital
Phone Went West
Mahgeetah
————————-
Believe (Nobody Knows)
Victory Dance
Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Part 2
One Big Holiday

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