Ringing In 2009 With My Morning Jacket
Madison Square Garden was the place to be on New Year's Eve, as 13,000 folks utterly thrilled to kiss 2008 goodbye rocked their socks off with My Morning Jacket, playing their most high-profile headlining set to date. The group was up for the occasion and then some, offering choice covers, guest appearances, a variety of stylish outfits and plenty of theatrics to keep the crowd entertained.
The show opened on a jubilant note with a horn section-enhanced cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" before moving quickly into ace originals such as "Evil Urges," "Off the Record" and "Gideon." Centro-Matic's Will Johnson sang alongside frontman Jim James on a beautiful "Golden," while singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins dueted with James on the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell staple "You're All I Need To Get By."
But MMJ really achieved liftoff during "Lay Low," the 13th song of the first set and the first to harness the harmonized guitar heroics of James and Carl Broemel (click here for some YouTube footage of the sick ending jam). A cover of Dion's "The Wanderer" (overheard in the bathroom: "These guys really cover a lot of territory!") and slamming versions of "Dancefloors" and "Mahgeetah" closed the first portion.
Now ducked out in white suits, the band returned to count down the last seconds of 2008 with its own special rendition of Kool & the Gang's "Celebration," as confetti and balloons poured down from the ceiling. Another Kool & the Gang favorite, "Get Down on It," led into "Wordless Chorus" and eventually a holy cow take on Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' immortal "Islands in the Stream" (again with Atkins) and a beautiful cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home To Me."
MMJ did its best with James Brown's "Cold Sweat," which even featured a solo for drummer Patrick Hallahan, but it was ultimately one of the only missteps of the night. Furious runs through "Anytime" and "One Big Holiday" put an exclamation point on a great performance, with James warbling "Auld Lang Syne" from a mock living room set-up at the top of the stage for good measure.
Family and friends convened to a nearby Irish bar afterwards, and eventually, some of us made our way to Mercury Lounge to catch the last few songs of the Guns N' Roses cover band Mr. Brownstone, but the less said about that, the better. This was My Morning Jacket's night, and it won't soon be forgotten.
Here is My Morning Jacket's set list:
"Move on Up"
"Off the Record"
"The Way That He Sings"
"Thank You Too"
"You're All I Need To Get By"
"What a Wonderful Man"
"Phone Went West"
"Look At You"
"Smokin' From Shootin'"
"Touch Me I'm Going To Scream, Pt. 2"
"Get Down on it"
"Islands in the Stream"
"Bring It on Home To Me"
"One Big Holiday"
Christmas, Wainwright And McGarrigle-Style
Christmas is a time for miracles, or in this case, two weeks before Christmas is a time for coincidences. Our box seats at Carnegie Hall last night (the door had to be unlocked by an usher between songs, as we were tardy) gave us a bird's eye view of the McGarrigle/Wainwright Christmas Hour and all of the festive, and sometimes oddball, holiday cheer it had to offer.
The drizzly and unseasonably warm weather in New York didn't feel particularly Christmas-y, but folk icons and McGarrigle/Wainwright matriarchs Kate and Anna created a heartwarming and merry holiday feeling as they presided over their preternaturally talented brood, led by Kate's son Rufus and daughter Martha. Dressed as Dickensian carolers, switching between a multitude of instruments and joined by a passel of friends and relatives that included Aunt Sloan (sister of Loudon Wainwright III,) sister Lucie (daughter of Loudon,) and cousins Lily and Sylvan, the Wainwright siblings shepherded their harmony-belting flock through old Christmas standards, modern holiday hits and original compositions.
The evening included a defiantly, but festively, off-key "Blue Christmas" sung by Lou Reed as well as an original composition by Reed's wife Laurie Anderson. She didn't give us the name of the synthy, spoken-word track, but we would call it, "Consumerism and Modern Technology in America. And at Christmas." Comedian Jimmy Fallon joined Martha for an adorable rendition of "Winter Wonderland," and then invoked the voices of Neil Young, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen for an impression-fest rendering of "Silver Bells."
The ladies of the evening were sparkling, with Emmylou Harris taking the mic for "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and Martha wiggling her way through a rousing version of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping." But it was the boys who really stole the show. Rufus' duet with iconic drag queen Justin Bond on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was the most heart-wrenching, though androgynous, ode to Judy Garland J.I. has ever seen, and his late-in-the-show, mic-less "Oh Holy Night" was breathtaking.
After the show, we reluctantly traded our cushy box seats for the open bar at the after-party at a nearby Italian restaurant. Spotted in attendance were Fallon spouting the praises of the McGarrigles to anyone nearby, Stephen Schwartz holding court in a corner booth with Rufus and his partner, B-52s frontman Fred Schneider making merry and Mark Ronson in a signature skinny tie, holding a crowd's attention at the end of the bar.
All in all, the evening was the perfect star-studded New York Christmas event, complete with a late night Carnegie Deli run for matzoh ball soup, but it wasn't until the train this morning that the Christmas coincidences really started. In one part of Brooklyn, J.I. was scribbling notes for this post on the M train when Martha Wand her husband Brad Albetta boarded, carrying their Dickens-ian garb in a shopping bag en route to film their holiday concert at the Knitting Factory. Believe that the encounter made it into the notes!
In another part of the borough on yet another train, a close friend ran into Loudon Wainwright III -- in town, but conspicuously absent from the Carnegie Hall revelries. Loudon remembered J.I. from an interview this fall, and when asked why he hadn't been a part of the concert he quipped, "They never invited me. Which is funny, because my name is Wainwright."