Jim James spoke of Omaha’s beautiful people before inviting one of them to the stage to perform with him.
James, the enigmatic frontman of My Morning Jacket, was at Slowdown on Tuesday for a solo performance, but he invited a friend, guitarist and producer Mike Mogis, to play with him near the end of the show.
Mogis is, of course, a member of Bright Eyes, a well-known indie rock producer and one of James’ bandmates in the indie rock supergroup Monsters of Folk, which also includes She & Him’s M. Ward and Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst.
Mogis sat down on the pedal steel to play “Dear God” and the rest of the James-penned material from Monsters of Folk’s 2009 self-titled album.
Mogis joined in on mandolin, acoustic guitar and pedal steel for the slow jam “His Master’s Voice,” the strummy acoustic song “The Right Place” and the full-out rocker “Losin’ Your Head” on which he and James traded guitar notes.
“Mike and I worked on an album decades ago called ‘Monsters of Folk’ with a couple other (people),” James joked. “Thanks for playing with us, Michael. It means a lot to me.”
More than 600 people packed into Slowdown to catch James’ solo show. Both women and men screamed for the bearded indie rock troubadour whenever James moved near them on the stage. Some called out his name, and others yelled, “I love you.”
James smiled and replied, “I love you, too.” Other than to talk to Mogis and say a few thank yous, James’ only other interaction with the crowd was to reach out and touch fans fingertip to fingertip while he crossed the stage and sang.
James is best known as the frontman of Kentucky rock band My Morning Jacket. Though some fans probably wanted to hear that band’s “Off the Record” and “I’m Amazed,” James skipped all but one Jacket tune and instead played most all of the songs from his solo album, “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” which was released earlier this year.
He did play an acoustic version of My Morning Jacket’s “Bermuda Highway” in the encore, and fans of his band sang along to most of the words. But that was it.
James began the set with the slow jam “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” and continued with songs such as an extended version of the instrumental “Exploding” as well as “A New Life,” which was a mix of folk and funk — soul music on an acoustic guitar.
James, in a brown suit, wore a hint of a smile while he sang and (occasionally) played his flying V guitar, which was anchored to a stand that allowed James to dance and flit around the stage. Whenever he reached for the flying V, James would swing his head with his bushy brown hair flying all over the place as if someone was swinging a mop head around.
James also picked up the saxophone a few times during songs such as “All Is Forgiven.”
Throughout the two-hour performance, James was a delight to watch, and the transition between folk and funk and then soul and rock was enough to have the packed venue’s floor undulating with dancers and plenty of others just nodding their heads.
A couple of low points came when James left the stage while his band meandered on like a Grateful Dead tribute group. “God’s Love to Deliver,” which is less than four minutes long on James’ album, went on for nearly 10 minutes and devolved into Pink Floyd-style atmospheric space rock. James even left during the middle of the song to do who knows what backstage.
Thankfully, James put the wheels back on the wagon with the encore, which featured the appearance by Mogis, lots of Monsters of Folk and the My Morning Jacket song.
James finished the set by playing “Changing World” from his Woody Guthrie tribute album, “New Multitudes,” which included Jay Farrar, Will Johnson and Anders Parker. The Guthrie tune was a strong way to end the set, and fans were screaming for more songs from James.
I guess they’ll have to wait until he comes back to town with My Morning Jacket.
“Thank you so much for coming out to spend some time with us tonight,” James said during the concert’s encore. “Omaha is a place very near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent a lot of time here with a lot of friends and beautiful people.”
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