The mythology of Jim James is an interesting one. While the My Morning Jacket front man has never done anything to explicitly cultivate the cultish reverence many of the band’s fans show him – immortalized in an episode of “American Dad!” – he does have a tendency, like many great artists, to play into it. His image as some sort of aloof mystical figure, akin to the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, is often undercut by his rather plainspoken manner in interviews, and yet many fans still believe that he is one in a long line of musical prophets, tapping into the energy of the Earth to deliver his message. So, hot off one of the best years in MMJ’s career, he recently released his second solo album, “Eternally Even,” and seems prepared to log the next chapter in the Great Book of Jim James. Washington Square News was fortunate to see him compose one page of that book through the course of a gripping show at Terminal 5 Sunday, Nov. 20.
As an album, “Eternally Even,” with its mix of soulful melodies and timely lyrics performed over layers of moody synthesizers and woozy bass lines, sounds much more internal and tightly focused than the expansive multi-genre odysseys of most My Morning Jacket albums or even his 2013 solo debut. It’s on stage, though, that these songs really establish themselves, cementing them as essential parts of James’ catalog. On the set opening “Hide In Plain Sight,” Jim James immediately kicked things into high gear with a blistering guitar solo that cut through the synths like a dagger before letting the song slide into a surprisingly danceable groove while he prowled the stage, microphone in hand. The drums were notably more present in the mix than they are on the record, bringing out James’ twisted psychedelic funk on songs like “In the Moment” which featured some impressive bass work from Seth Kauffman and synth-like guitar likes from Twin Limb’s Kevin Ratterman. In other places, things got a little more loose and spacey, especially on “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” the two-part centerpiece of the new album, which after starting with a simple keyboard riff burst into an epic panoramic soundscape that descended into a fiery jam with James and Ratterman exchanging intense guitar licks back and forth.
After a rousing performance of the “old school rock and roll-meets-hippie folk” of “A New Life,” James gave his thoughts on the current political and social climate, mentioning that he and his band had attended a rally for peace and love that day in Brooklyn’s Adam Yauch Park and preaching the power of unity and togetherness in these times. They closed with “Eternally Even”’s beautiful title track before returning to the stage for an encore that featured songs from other projects James has been involved in, including Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” and The New Basement Tapes’ “Down On the Bottom,” which might have gotten the biggest sing-along of the night. The night ended with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” a song off James’ first solo album that serves as the perfect example of his version of psychedelic music. Slowly coming together instrument by instrument, the song built with a massive crescendo into a fiery guitar solo from James to close out the evening’s proceedings.