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"LIVE 2015": OUR REVIEW OF MMJ'S SECOND EVER LIVE ALBUM




by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips


LIVE 2015, an official live document from My Morning Jacket, has finally been released, the Kentucky/ Indiana/ Ohioans' second official full length live LP since MMJ captured lightning in a bottle on September 2006's iconic Okonokos, a masterpiece project released on CD, vinyl and the brilliant, legendary (but much too short) DVD.

When the track-listing for LIVE 2015 was unearthed this past Spring, many fans opened their wallets, pressed "complete order" and let out a long hipster groan:

5 songs returned from the Z-centric Okonokos, including 4 from the Z album itself; fans wondered "where the hell is 'Phone Went West'? "War Begun"? "Easy Morning Rebel?"; others moaned about the lack of a full show being presented, but despite the mopey opinions concerning the band's bizarre choices, every Jacket fan either pre-ordered, desperately awaited, or just barely purchased LIVE 2015....such is the raging appetite for live My Morning Jacket growing across planet earth as we know it.

For 14 1/2 years, Jacket fans have been waiting anxiously for an often promised new live album / DVD, a process which has taken so long to be figured out, it now appears the idea of a physically released visual live product from the band is all but lost with labels' distrust of decreasing DVD sales.......although I hope I'm horribly wrong.


There's something special about the mixture of the audio and visual elements with a band as soulful and as transcendent as My Morning Jacket, a savage alchemy which film director Sam Erickson captured beautifully throughout Okonokos.

But for those starving for live MMJ regardless of the format, LIVE 2015 is manna from heaven arriving just at the right time.

So let's dive into the new live album, our thoughts, our review, some interesting things I'll let you trip out on, and then you better post your own MMJ LIVE 2015 rabbit hole.


PROs:


- This thing sounds so fucking great, both on vinyl and through any digital platform;

Heading back to 2006, I even burned the files on to CD and drove around; most of these versions made the adventure some spooky, ethereal fun. So, the files on CD sound the best for me, but the pristine white vinyl is a close second.


Jim's vocals are especially clear, at times they even sound double-tracked....the result should give fans a newfound respect for James' cinematic vocals, gruffer with age and shorn of the reverb which used to define the Jacket singer & his band's sound.

In comparison to 2006's Okonokos, Jim's vocals are almost bone dry on stage and throughout LIVE 2015's faithful era concert mix, a sonic process which happened gradually and naturally over the post-Evil Urges years, alongside his lust for octave pedal madness or delay loops.

Producer Ryan Pickett, who also helms the band's nearly erotic front of house mix, has done a wonder job here:

Allowing every instrument room to breathe, the bass to move and bounce within a target zone, Bo's keyboards are able to flutter, direct or guide, Patrick's robust drums are a shifting anchor....the guitars are a lightning-tinged continuum captured in all their gear-headed glory.

Rarely achieved on live albums and definitely not on the band's ultimate triumph, Okonokos: Pickett balances crowd atmosphere and the clarity of MMJ's prowess far better than their first live record, an almost crowd-less enterprise until the opening or final chord of each song thanks to a few mic'ing errors (which is why the DVD matters so much).


In regards to his balancing of crowd & artist, "Dondante" lingers in the dark as a standout moment for the magic Pickett can elicit from a soundboard tape.

While some may argue it doesn't sound as great as Okonokos, given the iconic 2006 album's Bob Ludwig mastering, greatest hits-esque track listing of heavy hitters, B sides & rarities, and the fact it was mixed for surround sound, DTS etc, that's fine and okay....MMJ VOL I: LIVE 2015 still sounds spectacular and I don't see the unnecessary need for comparison: Kevin Ratterman does a high grade job on the mastering.

Frankly, until the band release a package on the par and scope of Okonokos, there is no comparison...at the same time, I dig LIVE 2015 for what it is: a gift from My Morning Jacket.


- The performances from My Morning Jacket are always ready to supply their brand of necessary boot to the face / warm blanket "yin and yang" that we love so much, and here Jim James' nearly 6 year long vision for Okonokos' follow-up takes flight in spellbinding fashion:

Jim wanted the band's second live record / DVD to encapsulate their material since Z was released, as well as providing a showcase for their new instrumental explorations on stage....where the repeats off Okonokos would be kept to a minimum, if only to show their latter-day incarnations (i.e "Dondante", "Steam Engine", "Gideon" etc).


Yes, when you compare 2005 "Dondante" to 2015, it's a completely new vehicle...extended, evermore Floydian and evil incarnate, while "Gideon" always seemed to end too soon during the Okonokos / Z era...that was until MMJ began extending its propulsive rhythms into ignition during 2011 and 2012, Carl and Jim's harmony lead lines erupting around our consciousness and recalling the greatest musical moments you can think of all at once....here, we are treated to deliciously extended renditions of both Z tracks and Okonokos numbers.

Both are blistering renditions and album musts.....by the way, Ryan, which shows are "Dondante" and "Gideon" from?

As for the other 11 tracks, most of these tunes would've undoubtedly made up the bulk of a second official follow-up to Okonokos:

Thematically, I always knew Jim would want "Victory Dance" to open the second live album, representing the darker side of "Wordless Chorus" in a way: the pair of electronically-rooted, genre-less powerhouses became quasi-"hits". Of course "Victory Dance" was always made for the stage, a building behemoth perfect for igniting the beginning of a show.....or live album.

Seeing "Circuital" arrive second to "Victory Dance" made complete sense and helped me realize Jim has already moved past the idea of giving 2008's Evil Urges its own center stage place on a 2021 live album, at least settling for the decade-old standards from the overlooked Circuital record:

Opening in sequential order....total symmetry with Okonokos' "three from Z" opening, both songs are splendid renditions which raise the blood pressure and made me realize how much I appreciate the opening Circuital duo. There may be a more rousing "Circuital" found on another 2015 set list elsewhere, or a more insane "Victory Dance" than the opener found here, but neither would sound as great as LIVE 2015's clean presentation.


Scattered amongst proceedings are four tracks from 2015's safe record The Waterfall, "Believe", "Compound Fracture", "Get the Point" and "Tropics", both "Compound" and "Believe" taking their typical places amongst the first five songs on LIVE 2015's "set list".

Though there exist tinges of The Waterfall's true direction, mostly via the inclusion of proggy "Tropics", the other three from the album don't represent the mixed Waterfall LP in the best light:

WHERE IS THE WATERFALL JUSTICE?????

After focusing on the newest albums with 4 from The Waterfall and 3 from Circuital, Jim also thought it best to honor Evil Urges among that duo of records yet to grace an official live full length, granting the 2008 album 3 songs as well;

Alongside the four from Z, only a meager single track from the band's most beloved early LPs, At Dawn and It Still Moves, could be found smattered on the rest of the album's grooves:

Screenshot from my own copy

Not even in contention for Okonokos (as it wasn't played during that album's 2005 Fillmore stand), "Masterplan" is a highlight of delirious intensity, Carl Broemel freakishly soloing our faces off through ungodly Les Paul bends, showing off a fuller Gilmour-esque guitar tone when compared to his "indie gone to space camp" tone from 2005.

I love Carl's tone when he first joined the band, but as LIVE 2015's version of "Masterplan" displays for all to hear, there is nothing quite like Broemel's searing, devastating tone since the 2012 tour.

Much like "Masterplan", Evil Urges' "mega-hit" "Touch Me II" is a masterpiece that simply was mandatory for their second live release:

Appearing on its first live album, "Touch Me II"'s disco inferno is now extended with a "Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" meets Red Rider" type jam (a winding, weird moment that isn't presented at its greatest here). Built off the same hi-hat shuffling riffage, even RR2019's "Touch Me II" jam runs off more focus and purpose than LIVE 2015's "Touch Me II"....

While the jam from LIVE 2015 does meander off into more noodling than other versions have shown, it still pummels ass and is a great place for new fans to start when discovering the band's jammier side.

Also making its surprising live record debut, "Evil Urges" finally survives after years as an opener (2008-2009) then as a rarity (2011-2014) to be front and center here:

What a great recording of the title track to MMJ's divisive 2008 album, from the ultra-thick intro swimming in wah-wah, clavinet and phaser zest, the song's ingenious interplay between Bo Koster's keyboards and Carl / Jim's guitars, becomes altogether frightening.

Danny Clinch, capture from "Compound Fracture" video

As for the performances as a whole, when it comes down to the band (or producer) selecting songs from a hefty list of recorded tour dates, usually you can identify the best performances quickly; with a musical force such as My Morning Jacket, always operating with the gas pedal down, it becomes like splitting hairs...butlers of Merlin trying to find loose teeth in a sour milk sea.

Who knows where these songs are from, as the inside only indicates these versions came from concerts on "2015's The Waterfall Tour".....and it definitely sounds 100% Waterfall-era Jacket.....however, I'm curious as to which nights......and if any of these songs belong to the Beacon 2015 run....

I'd say Ryan Pickett, Jim James or whomever picked these 16 performances, did a solid job... but a safe one.


- The inner and outer packaging is fantastic, featuring the perfect array of 70s-esque live LP band photos inside a breathtaking gatefold, mostly taken by shootsmen & band friends (the legendary) Jay Blakesberg, (the otherworldly) Danny Clinch, and (the brilliant) Eric Mayers.

Screenshot from my own copy

Each member is represented in their own domain from the 2015 Waterfall stage set-up, illustrated beautifully by a backdrop of Marc Janowitz's "surrealistic machine" lighting.

Just like Okonokos, but updated to match the band's 2015 vibe, Jim is now seen in his trademark shades and iconic neon flavored black jacket, Tom with sculpted Roman hair and those libertine vests, Bo's righteous hat collection, Carl's white-black checkered shirts bent to their seams amid flailing guitar god poses, and Patrick's ever-growing stature in both band influence, drum kit and hair.

Screenshot from my own copy

Finally, album art in 2021 I can cherish, love and respect...the band put forth the tiny effort to get the right layout here, the perfect photos were picked by the best photographers, and Glen Nakaso from Smog Design made sure he delivered.


CONS


TRACKLISTING

First of all....regarding My Morning Jacket's second live project, I understand Jim wanted to show alternative versions and the band's changes over time, however he picked the wrong tracks to hammer his apocalyptic vision home:

by Danny Clinch, Stinson Beach 2014

"Dondante" and "Gideon", which also appeared on Okonokos, are both expected, wanted and welcome as their new incarnations border on live insanity that greatly differs & bests their original live installments; Many will debate whether LIVE 2015's "Dondante" is the ultimate "Dondante" for the job, regardless, these two Z bangers encapsulate Jim's "band evolution" mission statement.

However, why the hell do we need Okonokos carbon copy versions of "Wordless Chorus", a none-too-different "Off The Record" (while still badass) or "The Way That He Sings".......why?

I also question the introduction of lukewarm, filler songs "Wonderful" and "Get The Point" over a vast array of other, more stronger tunes.

Sending Dan Fogelberg & Kenny Loggins chills up my spine, "Wonderful", despite its amazing message, has to be stopped for sappyness' sake. Plus, Jim & Bo's vocal / piano jam on the outro has never really been one of my favorite Jacket past times.

But my credo is 'Never bitch about a problem without proposing a solution', thus, I submit Exhibit A:

Instead of "The Way That He Sings", a safe...almost bland choice that has no bearing on future reflections of The Waterfall era, I would've gone for 2015's incredible recreation of The Tennessee Fire's "They Ran", chosen from MMJ's gloriously weird concert at Charlotte's Red Hat Amphitheater on 7/28/15.

Unbelievably soulful, filled to the brim in cascadingly beautiful guitar-playing and Bo's serene atmosphere, how in God's name did the band refuse to place any version of "They Ran" on LIVE 2015?

Tom and Patrick on the Waterfall tour

To honor Jim's topsy-turvy decade-long live album mission, we'll replace the newer albums with songs from those same records:

From Circuital, "Slow Slow Tune" would've blasted the boring "Wonderful" away in shame, not only in terms of emotional connection with current & future audiences, "Slow Slow Tune" features better songwriting and as always, remains a truly original, heartwarming moment in a MMJ set list...if you're lucky to be there:

For "Slow Slow Tune", I'm choosing MMJ's first night of three in Chicago on 6/9/15 (one of the best shows of the tour and largely unheard).

Off The Waterfall, I'll trade the tepid "Get The Point" for "Spring":

Half sonic failure / half primal prog-beast, the 7 minute thunderdome is nonetheless a core piece to that record's sound far more than "Get The Point" could ever represent.

Despite some New Age-y fans who may be down with "Believe", I am not one of them: I'll take the aquatic slumber of "Only Memories Remain" instead.


A defining achievement from The Waterfall sessions at Stinson Beach, "Only Memories Remain" stands as the true break-up song on an album supposedly full of 'em.

I turn to its chills-inducing debut from OBH 2015, a definitive reading evoking Stinson Beach imagery en masse.

In lieu of Okonokos repeats"Off The Record", "The Way That He Sings" and "Wordless Chorus", there are a variety of options:

2015 introduced a bizarre one-off appearance of "How Do You Know", completed by a late night bar-room piano intro from Bo, played two nights ahead of MMJ's webcast at Red Rocks. This version from St Louis on 8/12/2015 stands as an aurally orgasmic depiction of MMJ's ability to bash away at a blues vamp in more creative ways than either Crazy Horse or The Stones.

What were the most shocking absences from MMJ's second ever full length live offering?

Though it was understood "War Begun" wouldn't be paired up with another edition of "I Will Sing You Songs" (as the latter's G.O.A.T version already came out on Okonokos), fans were still flabbergasted at the banishment of "War Begun" from any official Jacket live project.

But the most cruel exclusion has to be without a doubt the exile of "Phone Went West", a song which was skipped over on Okonokos and now, after becoming the centerpiece of many a Jacket show since its current "Celestial Jam" launch-pad began in 2012, its dismissal from a second consecutive live Jacket project is bewildering and at times criminal in nature.

I would have included the unheard master recording of "Phone Went West" from the Beacon Theater, shows specifically recorded by the band in preparation for an official live album that never happened (a Thanksgiving residency gone unheard by Jacket fans til this day).


Luckily, we heard how awe-inspiring 11/25/15's performance was and is thanks to an incredible fan's phone (thanks to this glorious YouTube video).


THE WRONG JAMS

If Jim wanted to go for the band's evolution, what better move than placing the monster trio of "Dondante", "Phone Went West" and "Steam Engine" in their greatest 2015 forms, all on the same pile of wax together?


Are these 16 choices the best versions of each song chosen?

Is this a compromised cashgrab product ripped together from several abandoned projects?

Does it sound too clean?

Will the future vinyl releases overwhelm the memory of LIVE 2015 even a few years from now, or will this collection live long in the memory of fans?

My only major question: Why produce a live vinyl series, strictly on vinyl or digital download? The fans are craving a traditional release, another DVD, CD and vinyl trifecta Okonokos took full advantage of before. If MMJ are wanting to turn their live archive into a treasure trove, there's far better representations of their magical power than LIVE 2015, however this record's lasting worth in the catalog is yet to be decided....let's allow it to breathe a little first.


These questions will become a debate that will rage on for a long time, especially if MMJ take another 15 years to release their third live offering.


VERDICT: 8/10


by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

©2021 by Uninterrupted Writings Inc


SHOUTOUTS: Everyone who supports & loves this band!!!



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