Concert Review: Jim James at Iron City

jimjamesironcityA band or performer playing an entire album start to finish is usually the sign of a band cashing in on the public’s nostalgia for an act’s glory days, but nothing could’ve been further from the truth when Jim James took the stage at Iron City and performed his 2013 release Regions of Light and Sound of God in its entirety. The enigmatic frontman of My Morning Jacket has his hands in a lot of projects (solo work, MMJ, Monsters of Folk, Yim Yames, etc.) that are all rather distinct from one another. Though this is far from his first solo project, it is the first one he’s released under the name Jim James and not the thinly veiled stage name, Yim Yames.

From the opening notes of “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)” it was clear that live is where Jim James shines. While not a bad song on record, it’s one that doesn’t reach out and grab you on the first couple of listens. James stalked the stage, never standing in one spot for more than a few seconds and whipped up a quick rapport with the crowd by being in near constant physical contact with them throughout the opening number.

Unsurprisingly, the best songs on the record are the ones that translated the best live. “Dear One” was greatly expanded and improvised on and remained a highlight of the evening despite it being defiled by a drum solo (I really dislike drum solos.) James assaulted his Flying V guitar (which was mounted on a stand rather than worn with a strap) during the improvisational section and the crowd roared in approval upon its completion. This crowd didn’t need to be drawn in slowly. They were on board with James and his band from the first note.

“All is Forgiven” and “God’s Love to Deliver” made the perfect closing pair of songs to the set. Both are slow, mystical songs that come off more like prayers than songs at a rock concert. Though James is no threat to unseat John Coltrane as a saxophone player, it was hard to not draw comparisons between this closing pair of songs and Coltrane’s landmark album A Love Supreme. While musically different, they feel on the same page thematically with their yearning for infinity.

After exhausting his catalog during the nine song set, James had to dip into the well of other projects and artists to supply an encore. He rewarded fans with a pair of acoustic MMJ tunes “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” and “Bermuda Highway” before delving into a trio of Monsters of Folk songs and closing out with a Woody Guthrie cover.

Dividing the show into two distinct segments, “the album” and “the old stuff” was a wise move that paid great dividends when it came to flow and cohesiveness of ideas and energy. I honestly give the nod to the first part being better. I look forward to the day when James has enough solo material under his belt to not have to rely on My Morning Jacket songs and other projects to round out a full set.

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