Whatever gripes the thousands of concert junkies who made their way to Coffee County for Bonnaroo may have, a sure way to lure them into buying a pair of '09 tickets is to have them think back to this year's all-night My Morning Jacket performance on the festival's second night: frontman Jim James beneath a torrential downpour, wailing on his guitar without missing a note, saying how wonderful it is to be "bathed in the golden rain from the heavens." Kirk Hammett hilariously out of place for a midset cameo. Comedian Zach Galifianakis in a half-drunk prance falling into the center-stage amps.
In the same way that show became Twitter legend in a matter of hours, the Louisville quintet's recent tour has fans filling up message boards across the Internet. And while their Riverfront Park show likely won't turn into a dusk-'til-dawn affair, be sure that it's not called "An Evening With My Morning Jacket" for nothing. Wherever the band takes the stage they damn near stake down camp: Their shows, sometimes lasting as long as three hours, have gained them a reputation as one of the best live acts around. But guitarist Carl Broemel (the band's sole Nashville resident) says the hype is merely a side effect of the band's playing shows—however long and tirelessly energetic—the way they feel most comfortable.
"We put pressure on ourselves, and that's the only pressure we try to acknowledge," says Broemel. "People use superlatives and get real excited, and that's awesome...but I don't think we're the greatest live band in the universe. I know better than that."
With the band able to switch comfortably from the Southern jam band anthems of 2003's It Still Moves to the countrified ballads of their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire and the Prince-inspired dance rock of their latest, Evil Urges, the show is likely to span the breadth of their catalog. But even with the wealth of material, Broemel says the band keeps the set list off-the-cuff on purpose, allowing the audience's vibe to dictate the momentum.
"We feel a lot of give-back from the crowd, which makes the energy go up in a natural way, rather than it all coming from us," he says. "Honestly, it's a little bit easier to do a long show when you feel like you don't have to go out there and kill yourself."
With a history of band members burning out from relentless touring—Broemel's predecessor Johnny Quaid bowed out in 2004 along with keyboardist Danny Cash—Broemel admits keeping stride can be difficult.
"It's definitely a worrisome thing trying to keep your stamina together. It's a matter of pacing yourself—a juggling act to try to figure out all these factors, but at the same time, not get too cerebral," he says, though showing no signs of wear and tear. "Honestly, I look forward to playing a longer show than a half-hour set at a festival. We just don't even feel like we can get started. You get going and it's over."
Even if My Morning Jacket have an indefatigable grit onstage, they're also well aware that the average audience, no matter how committed, has a finite attention span.
"I have trouble listening to a band for more than an hour or two, so I'm sensitive to that," says Broemel. "You don't want to keep playing for the sake of playing."
For a band in such constant creative flux, though, any excess energy saved offstage just means more that can be channeled into experimenting with new material on the road.
"I don't think we're trying to solidify the ultimate My Morning Jacket," he says. "It's always going to be a slippery thing that will evolve and change."
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