A brand of music has evolved that has become known as “beard rock.” Typically, it involves men with shaggy hair, woolly faces and loud guitars playing rock music that can get heavy but never quite hardcore or metal. Rather, it fuses its fury into something more transcendent than muscle and might.
Jim James, who took the stage draped in a military-style jacket that he wore like a cape, is the band’s lead singer and leader. He looks straight out of the late-’60s/early ’70s, long-haired and bearded, as if he were a member of Mason Proffit. For two hours, he and his band took a crowd of nearly 3,000 on a long, loud and joyous ride, pulling songs from a catalog that now spans more than a decade. Things got fierce early. “Holdin’ On To Black Metal,” the second song of the set, ignited the kind of sing-along and uproar you typically get during an encore. The next number, “Evil Urges,” sustained that mood. On that one, James showed off a falsetto that rivals Prince’s. Then came “The Dark,” which erupted into an infernal but soulful garage-rock anthem. Like most of the songs they’d play this evening, the live version of that one was delivered with a kick you don’t hear on the record..
MMJ can get jammy, too, as they did on “Evil Urges.” But for the most part, they contain themselves and avoid drifting into noodling or riffing for its own sake. They followed that with the sweet, cosmic “The Way That He Sings,” a skyscraping folk anthem that cast a spell of redemption and hope. That was one of several highlights. The others: “Mahgeetha,” which aroused the longest, loudest and most joyous eruption of the night; “Outta My System” from last year’s “Circuital” album, which sounded like something out of the Who’s early canon; and “Gideon.”
They ended with an encore that included “At Dawn,” the soulful “Wordless Chorus,” and parts 1 and 2 of “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream.” Oddly, the encore felt more like a soft landing, a way to taxi the crowd back from the heights it had reached over the previous two hours.
Band of Horses was one of the evening’s two openers. BoH is from South Carolina, and its blend of country and rock draws traits from the classic country-meets-rock world, especially Neil Young, solo and with Crazy Horse. The set list included several songs off the band’s best and best-known album, “Cease to Begin,” including “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Ode to LRC,” “Detlef Schrempf” and “Is There A Ghost.”
They weren’t officially co-headliners, but it felt like they were. Much of the crowd was in place when BoH opened its set, and most seemed familiar with whatever they played, going back to the “Everything All the Time” album and songs such as “The Funeral” and “The Great Salt Lake,” a highlight of their robust 45-minute set. They showed off two songs from an album due in September, including one called “The Dumpster.” It fit in with the rest of the set and with the rest of the evening: a song built on hard guitars, sing-along melodies and a sound that romances the past.
Blind Pilot: The indie folk/pop band from Portland, Ore., opened the night with a sweet 30-minute set. Their music is instantly likeable: melodic and well-crafted pop songs cast in acoustic arrangeents in which, sometimes, a trumpet dances with a banjo. The set list included "Keep You Right," "The Story," "Half Moon," "Two Towns From Me" and "We Are the Tide."
MMJ setlist: Cobra; Holdin’ On To Black Metal; Evil Urges; The Dark; Off the Record; The Way That He Sings; Thank You, Too; Strangulation; Circuital; Outta My System; Masterplan; Mahgeetah; War Begin; I Will Sing You Songs; Gideon; One Big Holiday. Encore: At Dawn; Wordless Chorus; Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 1; Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2.
| Timothy Finn, The Star