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POP MUSIC REVIEW

My Morning Jacket has genre-jumping covered

October 13, 2003|Dean Kuipers | Special to The Times

There was enough hair swinging back and forth on stage on Saturday at the Roxy to make it seem like the second coming of Molly Hatchet, but the first of two sold-out shows by countrified Louisville, Ky., rockers My Morning Jacket gorgeously defied expectations.

From the first notes of "Mahgeetah," the band's ecstatic stage presence and charismatic mix of classic rock, nimble-but-distorted alt country, space interludes a la Pink Floyd, and one-of-a-kind transitions made genre distinctions irrelevant. MMJ's elevated, transcendent live presence brings to mind a heavily electrified version of what Gram Parsons called American Cosmic music.

The heavy fuzz guitars, the walloping, John Bonham-style drumming of Patrick Hallahan and the space-boogie piano of Danny Cash might sound a lot different if it weren't for the inspired vocals of lead singer and key songwriter Jim James. At age 24, James sings right through his hair, which completely covers his face like Cousin Itt, in a high tenor reminiscent of Neil Young or the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, to similarly delightful effect.

Run through monster reverb perfected in their practice barn by James and lead guitarist Johnny Quaid, his vocals -- there's only one vocal mic on stage -- create a vast, surprising space for the lyrics that removes them from cliches like Southern Rock. That the lyrics don't provide many memorable lines is a bit of a shame. But this unusual tone opens up the possibilities of the songs as they build to epic proportions.

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