Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kathleen Edwards and My Morning Jacket

Amazingly, it'd been about a year since I'd been to a concert, and when artists who put out two of my favorite albums from 2003 were on the same set, I decided I needed to end my streak (if I didn't last night, then I would have ended the dry spell this upcoming Saturday).

Canadian Kathleen Edwards has recorded some great rocking out tunes and a few slow ones, all the while intertwined with some twang. Her husky voice sounds very much cigarette and booze inspired (and she did nothing to dissuade the booze part, finishing her set by downing a shot), and works well with her many tales of failed and failing relationships on her two albums, 2003's Failer and this year's Back to Me. Her set used a five-piece band, most of the time employing three lead guitars, a bass, and drums. This led to some serious jams in her 45-minute set, which essentially expanded on eight of her songs. She got to most of my favorites (given that her music never gets played on local radio, I'm not sure if any can be considered "hits"). I missed two things from her set: the horn used on the album version of "12 Bellevue," and the song "Hockey Skates" off her first album. Also, her voice wasn't at the peak that I found it on the albums (no surprise I suppose). That being said, these are mere quibbles from a great live performance.

While My Morning Jacket was the headline band, and this fact was easily reflected by audience interest, I was there more for Edwards. I only have two of MMJ's four albums (and am missing their latest, Z (for which I can't really be blamed since it had only come out six days earlier)), so I was more in the dark about their tunes. Stylewise, the languidness in the voice of lead singer Jim James, magnified by serious effects that drag out his voice, evokes classic Southern rock, and it came as no surprise when I found out that the band hails from Louisville.

Live, the band seems even more from the Southern rock genre, as they repeatedly took off on intense, long, guitar-driven jams. Indeed, this show may be the closest you can currently get to a '70s rock concert (in contrast to the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney shows this year, where you can see the rockers closest to their 70s). Even on the tunes I didn't know, it was easy to get caught up in the riffs and guitar interplay. FWIW, it seemed to me that where Edwards conveys emotion, MMJ tends to evoke mood. Perhaps that difference is felt due to the fact that much of MMJ's lyrics were indecipherable, with the vocals used more as another instrument, while Edwards is a storyteller.

I found that the show got better as MMJ proceeded through its set, peaking with its last three songs, "Northern Sky," "Mahgeetah," and "Anytime." The first is a delicate Nick Drake tune (as most are), which the band rendered beautifully. "Mahgeetah" is off their 2003 album, It Still Moves, and is both playful and jamming, perfect for following a slower song, and for an encore set. "Anytime" is off their new album, and was my favorite of the ones they played off of it -- it was catchy, straight on rock.

Incidentally, you have an advantage in considering this review when compared with a standard concert review. Namely, you don't have to take the reviewer's word for how the show was, but can instead check out the show here (the link also provides set lists, which I didn't notice until after I had figured them out for Edwards). It's not the same thing as being there -- the sound quality of the recordings, particularly for Edwards' set, is quite inferior to what we had at the show. Also, you'll miss the great tap selection and the extreme smokiness at the packed 9:30 Club, as well as the vast quantities of bobbing hair on stage during MMJ's set. Still, you'll get to hear some great tunes.