I Don't Listen to My Morning Jacket Anymore Now That They Are Popular

They were only good when he still had long hair.

OK, that title is a bit misleading but the basics are true. My Morning Jacket used to be a pretty obscure band. During that time I liked them very much. Now they are a very popular band, one that can sell out a 3,500 seat venue like Constitution Hall (tonight) and be a headliner at a mega-festival like Bonnaroo. And I've lost interest. Some people would like to peg this strictly as indie snobbery. But that's not exactly the case. Below I'll outline the reasons MMJ isn't on the top of my "must see" list any more.

Their early albums are better/More the style that I like.
This one is simple enough. My Morning Jacket started off as a spaced-out alt-country band on "The Tennessee Fire" before landing at some mid-point between peak era Wilco and Flaming Lips on "At Dawn," which remains my favorite MMJ album. I listened to those two albums so much I was bound to be burned out on the band. But when they followed that up with the increasingly jammy, Southern-rock inflected "It Still Moves" (which, admittedly, has the band's best song, "Mageetah") I started to lose interest. Then came the synth-heavy and over-produced "Z" and, to paraphrase J. Freedom's chat intro, whatever it is that "Evil Urges" is. The band started at one place on the musical spectrum and moved somewhere else. Good for them for trying out new things, no sense staying stagnant, but those new things just weren't up my alley.

I've already seen them enough, and in smaller places.
I think we can all agree that seeing a band in a small venue is almost always preferable to seeing them in a bigger setting. I was lucky enough to catch My Morning Jacket at the tiny, now-defunct Metro Café twice as they toured behind "At Dawn." The first time there were maybe a dozen people there. This didn't stop MMJ from going all out. It remains one of the loudest shows I've ever been to, with everything turned up to 11, except the reverb which was at approximately 49. Jim James was barefoot and thrashing his hair like he was playing for thousands and the band played a full two hours. It was a simply monstrous show. The second time around the club was a little more crowded, but it still felt like a private show by one of the country's best bands. As the band worked its way up the ladder to the Black Cat then the 9:30 club, the shows remained excellent but weren't quite as special. At this point I've seen the band six times and it's never going to be as good as seeing them in a small club playing all the songs off my favorite album. Since My Morning Jacket doesn't quite fit with the Pope Theory, I'll pass.

They don't need me anymore.
Now here's where you can start making your indie snob argument, but I'll try to convince why it doesn't exactly work. For us socially awkward folk who are far too obsessed with music, we feel like we have co-dependent relationships with our favorite bands. In place of, you know, friends, we have our bands. We need them. So, right or wrong, we like to feel that they need us. Back when I was one of a dozen or so people watching My Morning Jacket at the Metro Café, it was easy to feel a certain connection with the band. The $10 I paid to see them that night, they needed that to help them get to the next city to rock for the 30 or 40 people who would see them there. Those constant spins on the college radio station to help made them chart in CMJ, that helped them as well. I don't begrudge the band their current success; in a weird way I feel like I helped them get there.

But now they don't need me, so I don't really need them. No hard feelings, just that there are bands playing for 12 people that need me more. You could say the mindset is almost like those crazy ladies who take in stray cats and then put them up for adoption once they're deemed fit and healthy. So next time you find someone who stopped liking a band that started small but made it big automatically assume it's only because it's a reaction to popularity.

Because then you might get some defensive, babbling 750 word response trying to convince you otherwise.

By David Malitz |  September 3, 2008; 4:05 PM ET Screeds
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You may not need MMJ, but you probably still need a copy editor - I think you're missing a "They" in the title of the blog post.

And I've never understood this attitude - if I liked a band when only 12 people came, why wouldn't I like them when 1200 or 12,000 did? Sure, you can't get as close and the atmosphere changes, but that's inevitable when you're not playing a club anymore. Being an early adopter is a badge of honor to me.

Posted by: Hemisphire | September 3, 2008 5:55 PM

I would agree with Hemisphere EXCEPT David already points out he doesn't like the band's new direction, so why bother going to the show? I think MMJ basically kept making the same record over and over again until Z, which I liked a lot (John Leckie strikes again). I have no idea what they were thinking with this new one.

I've got Jim's email address from 10+ years ago and I'm often tempted to see if it still works. ("Hey, Jim, been a long time; uh, can we open for you?") -E

Posted by: Jet Age Eric | September 3, 2008 6:17 PM

After last night's show, I'm still convinced that "Z" is the band's best album. The studio production is a bit slick, but the songs themselves are world-class. If you don't like the album's production, try listening to the Z songs on the Okonokos live album.

Posted by: SSMD | September 4, 2008 9:36 AM

mad love for my fellow Louisvillians.

Posted by: msto | September 4, 2008 10:34 AM

I don't even WEAR my morning jacket anymore. Ladies like my eveningwear, tho.

Posted by: Floyd | September 4, 2008 12:04 PM

Malitz, Malitz, Malitz. I'm certain there's a job for you over at Pitchfork. And I mean that in the worst way possible.

Show last night was great, if you're interested. And Jim's got long hair again.

Posted by: Adam | September 4, 2008 2:04 PM

You missed an incredible show last night dude. Hopefully you and your 11 friends got together for dinner or something! I'm just saying......

If MMJ is the future of music, my faith is restored.

Posted by: wolff | September 4, 2008 2:28 PM

I have to agree with most of your points -- for instance, I downloaded a few tunes off the latest disc from eMusic, but I certainly didn't need the whole thing on my iPod. But the first MMJ show I saw, back in 2001, was so amazing that I would jump at any chance, finances willing, to see them again. Finances haven't been willing lately. Channeling Crazy Horse ...

Posted by: polly | September 4, 2008 2:42 PM

If one is not a fan of Southern rock and guitar solos and men with literal curtains of hair covering their face they are pure torture, as I've experienced them on a couple of double bills (and yes I know, hair cut). Just not my cup of tea. I respect what Mr James does, I respect his homies (ie M Ward) a lot, and there are some neat things on the oods and sods albums that hint at their inevitable evolution to a cosmic-alt-soul revue, but I never need to see them live again.

The REAL question, Malitz, is what you think of The Strokes at this point.

Posted by: MN | September 4, 2008 3:02 PM

@Adam -- I'm sure last night's show was great; last time I saw them (in 2006) it was excellent, even if I didn't really like a bunch of the songs.

@wolff -- 11 friends? You're too kind. It was a pretty entertaining Nats game, though.

@MN -- Well the third Strokes album was awful except for the first song. "Room on Fire" is underrated, I think. I saw them at DAR on their most recent tour and Nick Valensi as Slash wasn't really doing it for me but they played all the stuff from "Is This It?" so that was fun. But unless their next album is very good -- and I think Casablancas might have it in him -- it's probably not worth seeing them. (And yes, I wish I could say "I saw the Stokes when they played Galaxy Hut!" but it would be a lie.)

Posted by: Malitz | September 4, 2008 5:29 PM

I totally get what you're saying. I like it that small venue connection with a band. But sometimes it's nice to enough the music with a huge crowd, especially if you have a good spot.

Great post!


Posted by: SolShine7 | September 11, 2008 7:11 PM

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