One Big Holiday: A Detailed account of My Morning Jacket’s 2014 Mexican Festival Fiesta and a Look Ahead at Next Year’s All Star Lineup

This past week My Morning Jacket announced that they will return to the Hard Rock Hotel on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera for a second installment of their epic and idealistic rock n roll getaway known as “One Big Holiday”. From  January 31- February 4th, MMJ will curate their south-of-the-border festival joined by friends and favorites Dr. Dog, Dawes, Band of Horses, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The War on Drugs and special deejay sets from the lovable Biz Markie. For ticketing and more details, go to http://mmjonebigholiday.com

As we get ready for the first great festival of 2015, let’s look back at the magic that came with the festival’s premiere earlier this year………

photo 3They planned ahead and they planned right. They came from all over. Many narrowly escaped the sub-zero temperatures of their hometowns and every one was somehow able to put a temporary hold on all the trials and tribulations of their typical workweek and head for old Mexico to attend a festival trying to encapsulate an ideal world within a song. This was My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday”.

Many months in the making, the newly unveiled Hard Rock Hotel on the Mayan Riviera played host to a four-day fiesta curated by MMJ. A rock and roll destination vacation for the adventurous, the all-inclusive stay-and-play festival was exclusive only to those who had booked the total experience. You could come and go as you pleased, but no one from the outside was allowed entry.

lj-1A strange and magical trip indeed, the Hard Rock seemed like a well-guarded fortress for great music. The event began on Sunday, and while My Morning Jacket was the only band scheduled to play that day, it didn’t mean the evening would be light on entertainment. Tearing through two sets totaling 2.5 hours, the show marked the band’s first show of the year and their first performance since Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit back in October.

Suspense built as the crowd gathered, and the dream became a reality as My Morning Jacket opened with the summoning song “Circuital”. Jim James took stage wearing south-of-the-border garb looking like some sort of Peruvian mystic. Stars filled the sky as the breeze from the ocean blew the band’s long hair horizontal like some sort of wind machine.

mmj-1-14“First Light”, another song from Circuital transitioned into the much older and now classic, ‘The Way That He Sings’ followed by a stellar and strange early-set cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. “Heartbreakin’ Man” and “Evelyn Is Not Real” gave fans a sweet taste from the debut record while “Masterplan” was re-worked with a sinister alternate beginning. The epic “Steam Engine” ended with a comedown of shimmering keys and the drum blasts of “Smoking from Shooting” rang out like gunshots.

mmj-1-2After a brief intermission, the band returned and laid the groundwork for a more mellow mood with the tracks “Wonderful”, “Welcome Home” and “Slow Slow Tune”. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a figure emerged from the shadows. It was Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead looking like a sun-soaked Samuel Clements (or Mark Twain if you prefer).

mmj-1-4The band had met and performed with Weir on last year’s tour with Bob Dylan and began in suit with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” before running through two classic Grateful Dead tunes, “I Know You Rider” and “Brown Eyed Women”.

While My Morning Jacket refuses to understand their association with jam band culture, moments like these make it hard to ignore the connection. And I mean that in the best way.

lj-1-4After bidding farewell to Mr. Weir, the band ventured into a truncated take on their 24-minute track “Cobra”, merging it with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and ending their 20-song performance with an especially fiery version of “Mahgeetah”.

mmj-1-3Excessive sun and open bars have been known to lead to arguments and general poor behavior, but this wasn’t your ordinary festival setting. Unlike most festivals, everyone was here for the same reason, to see a band that prides itself on peace and love and leads by example. It was Night Two and all was well.

Opening tonight’s show was a show-sharing favorite of MMJ’s– the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Performing as an 8-piece, the multi-generational New Orleans ensemble set the mood with a 15- minute ode to their fair city. With two tubas, a trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums, keys and a saxophone, the band was dressed to the nines accessorizing with infectious smiles and an unmatched benevolence as they danced their way through their set and into everyone’s hearts.

mmj-1Ending an hour-long brass-wailing set, the PHJB brought out special guest Bob Weir who had played with the band years and years ago. Adding a guitar to the mix, they merged jazz and blues, and you could tell that the players were having as much fun as their audience.

My Morning Jacket was next, and while the night before had been filled with epic surprises, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they could continue to blow the minds of the masses. A true treat for fans of the early records, the band began with “The Dark” and “Xmas Curtain”, “The Bear” and a special treat, a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man”. Unbeknown to some, “Rocket Man” was actually released as a teaser to their first record on a Little Darla Has A Treat For You compilation back in 1999.

lj-1-8After the fun yet sinister, falsetto-fueled “Evil Urges” it was back to the old days again with “War Begun”, “I Will Sing to You” and the ever-evolving “Phone Went West”.

Returning from a set break it was back in time with a devastating solo rendition of “Bermuda Highway”, “Old September Blues” and an extended version of “Picture of You”.

Fans of classic MMJ covers were then treated to the Velvet Underground’s “Oh Sweet Nothing” which was best played at Neil Young’s benefit with an all star cast on the day Lou died. Tonight’s, however, was nothing short of amazing as most of the crowd knew the words and sang along.

lj-1-6Bringing out their friends from Preservation Hall, MMJ continued with the creepy, mysterious “Holding On to Black Metal” and the robotic, disco-dance, omnichord-powered “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”.

lj-1-5If you thought you’d seen the last of Bob Weir, you were wrong. Still in town from his shows last week he came out one last time and began with a chilling version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”. A true, true highlight, the song perfectly toed the line of evil and innocence. After Jim said that he’d been snorkeling with Bob earlier that morning Bob replied somewhat seriously, “Some of my best friends are fish.” Perhaps it was a pun.

From here on it was party time again as PHJB, Weir and My Morning Jacket continued the covers with nods to Chuck Berry’s “Never Can Tell”, Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up”. As the special guests left the stage, the Jacket ended Night Two with “Gideon” from the album Z.

lj-1-9Night Three was an off day for My Morning Jacket, but they handpicked a wallop of entertainment. Mariachi El Bronx, a southbound detour and sideproject of the LA punk band, The Bronx got things started playing their first ever show in Mexico. Singing primarily in English, the backing instrumentation was the perfect compliment to an evening in ole Mexico. The horns blasted in a triumphant fashion while the deep-bodied guitarron hit the lows as the violin hit the highs and got the night’s mood in full swing.

mmj-1-10The Flaming Lips were up next and, as always, were a spectacle to be reckoned with. Changing gears from their confetti and crowd surfing in a plastic ball of positiviity, the band’s new stage presence has a lurking evil within it. The guitars were more piercing, the bass more bone-rattling, the visuals are more terrorizing, and yet the Lips still deliver that transcendent understanding. Flying the freak flag, Wayne took a jack-in-the-pulpit climb upon a mini-mountain with LED arteries flashing lights like rainbow blood flowing through the veins of the stage.

mmj-1-8Always gracious and constantly asking for the audience’s reassurance, Wayne dressed like an early spaceman, equipped with true Moon Boots and hair like a helmet. Merging new tracks with highlights from Soft Bulletin the band even dipped deep down rehashing “Unconsciously Screaming” from the vaults. The covers continued as Wayne dedicated David Bowie’s “Heroes” to Bob Weir.

mmj-1-7The Lips foraged on, and the focus was again directed toward the Beatles as the band belted out an especially psychedelic “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” followed by an especially dark and weighty ‘She’s So Heavy”. The emotional rollercoaster ended with the Lips’ signature majestic existentialist anthem “Do You Realize?”

mmj-1-11I’m sure Night Four must have been epic. Three days in and My Morning Jacket had yet to repeat a song– a true testament to their versatility and longevity. There is no filler. It’s all part of the whole. The total experience, from the friends to the fans, shows just how far the band has come. They’ve changed creatively and stylistically, never dismissing where they came from and never questioning where they’re headed.

As for this reporter, I wouldn’t see the final day. I didn’t question where I was headed either. I was headed back to Boston and back to reality.

FL

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Jim James & Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket) and Craig Finn (Hold Steady) @ Gotta Vote Concert for Obama

Monday, October 1, 2012

Colonial Theater, Keene, New Hampshire

The announcement came just a few days before, but the news was truly exciting and entered my Inbox just in time. Two of America’s greatest songwriters, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) and Craig Finn (of the Hold Steady) were headed to the small college town of Keene, New Hampshire to support Obama and urge people to vote in the upcoming election.

Jim has long been an Obama advocate, performing several shows during the last election, and even being asked to play the President’s Tree Lighting Ceremony two years back.

Obama wasn’t in attendence tonight, but the music had a mission and the setting and songs were perfect for the eager crowd. The songwriters urged people to vote, and let them know their pick, but weren’t preachy or condemning of any particular candidate. The message was if you learn the facts, you’ll see the clear choice.

Not a far drive from Boston, I hit the road and headed northwest to Keene, New Hampshire, braving the dark and winding roads to get to the theater where my free ticket didn’t even guarantee admission. Luckily, I got in with no problem, and despite being late, I was just in time for Craig Finn’s opening set.

The wordy, academic voice of the gutter and those who strayed from the narrow path, Finn and the Hold Steady are the most prolific and poet storytellers of the darkside of temptation. They speak of the interesting characters of excess who make life all the more interesting, scary and shady.

Playing solo tonight, Finn focused on songs from last year’s solo record, Clear Heart Full Eyes. Known mostly as the dancing and animated frontman, tonight he seemed a bit more serious and somber with just an acoustic guitar by his side. The audience seemed quite familiar with his work and followed every word and note like they were biblical passages.

Jim James was up next. Joined by My Morning Jacket comrade and guitarist, Carl Broemel, the two turned a quiet set into a beautiful execution of spot-on harmonies with pedal steel and acoustic guitars merging in beautiful unison.

With a set spanning most of their discography, they began with “Tonight I Want to Celebrate With You”, a deep cut from their debut record Tennessee Fire, and a song Jim has gone on to redefine by showcasing his Omnichord as the main instrumentation.

Running through some of their more acoustic highlights, the band performed “Wonderful” and “Bermuda Highway” and “Hopefully” taking the listener through true delights of rare stripped down masterpieces.

When they went into “Look at You”, you couldn’t help but realize the song’s special significance tonight. Look at You/Such a Fine Citizen/Look at you, you/ such a glowing example/Of peace and glory, glory, glory/Of peace and glory, glory, glory/And let me follow you/We believe in your power to lead without fear/Not above, in some tower/But here right down here with us in this world. Up until this moment I had never seen the song as political, but in this setting, how could you not?

From there it was back to more classics from older records as the band went on to “The Way That He Sings”,  “Wonderful Man” and “I Will be There When You Die”.

A true special highlight came during the Jim’s rendition of “Golden” where Craig Finn appeared mid-song to take on a verse and chorus. Seeing the two in their first ever duet, with such separate singing styles is surely something to be seen. And you can right now.

From Broemel’s bowing of his guitar, the soft scream of his pedal steel coupled with Jim’s kind words and magical, humbled and grounded view of politics and the future, the two expounded a sedate strength, hope and positivity in their songs that made the night a true and meaningful experience. Granted most of the people in the audience already knew whom they would vote for, perhaps the show encouraged a view people to register to vote, or maybe feel the power of their own voice.