For most bands, aging gracefully is an impossible task. It’s something that a group doesn’t have to think about for their first decade, but as albums start hitting their 10 and 20-year anniversaries, the choices of how to proceed with a (Pavement voice) career become more narrow, regardless of the quality of said band’s newest material. You can double down on the new stuff in concert, aware that a good chunk of your audience might still be drawn to the tunes that made them fall in love in the first place. Or, you can go full-nostalgia mode and tour full classic albums or mostly ignore the recent material in live shows.
Or, if you are Kentucky greats My Morning Jacket, you find the perfect middle ground, where a concert distinctly feels like entering a greatest hits phase while still showcasing where the later songs fit in. This was the energy MMJ brought to Los Angeles on Wednesday, playing the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetary in front of a sold-out crowd of sitting picnic-ers, standing superfans, and venue regulars mostly there for the vibes. Bandleader Jim James, who has lived off and on in LA for years now, clearly knew the score, shouting out the venue’s movie program early in the set, where he remembered seeing The Wizard Of Oz and then visiting its star pup, Toto, whose grave in on the property.
But in scanning the band’s recent setlists, other artists should note how the band walks this tightrope. The set changes dramatically each night, with much of their beloved material on the table. And generally, all eras of the band come to light. Sure, neither of the first two albums featured on this night, but shows on both sides of the Hollywood date found At Dawn and The Tennessee Fire still figuring in. And while Z and It Still Moves will always be the fan faves, the set also highlights just how well the singles from Evil Urges and Circuital have aged.
The past work is so strong — though it clearly isn’t a perfect fit for the streaming age, where the band’s singular indie-country-jam hybrid doesn’t fit neatly in background music playlists — that a spattering of tracks from the band’s recent, quite good two albums fit in neatly. Both dropped during the pandemic, The Waterfall II and My Morning Jacket find the band still operating with command and ease. In an interview with Uproxx for the latter, James noted that there was a chance that the band was done prior to its creation, and this tour behind it has that borrowed time sensibility. These are the performances of a band not just wanting to share their latest offerings, but also to celebrate their own existence and survival.
As such, MMJ’s biggest tunes soared: “One Big Holiday,” “Off The Record,” “Victory Dance,” “Evil Urges.” MMJ also honored their frontman’s solo endeavors by offering the surprising “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.).” Z‘s closer, “Dodante,” was a particular highlight, all tension and release that showed a band’s ability to pivot from nuance to bombast on a dime. And a song like “Complex,” off their latest, exemplified the Kentucky outfit’s ever-evolving sonic sensibilities, and how all roads lead back to their Southern rock roots.
My Morning Jacket’s recent years might have some wondering how much they have left in the tank, especially after James has noted that the end felt imminent at various stages of the last few years. But, you’d never know it at a My Morning Jacket concert. They’re known for their elite-level live shows and that’s still exactly what they deliver. And at these shows in 2022, the past and present hardly have borders. It’s as graceful as aging in music can be, and their rock peers would be served to follow suit.