My Morning Jacket have a lot to offer as a studio band, but no single recording of theirs is worth much when held up to their Scott Pilgrim-esque live show. I had always been on the fence about the group until I saw them on a 95-degree afternoon at Bonnaroo and, ten minutes into the set, Manchester, TN, got its annual allotment of rain over the span of about 30 minutes. It was an appropriately epic set of circumstances for a set that relied heavily on It Still Moves-era bangers, and would’ve convinced anybody that these dudes were untouchable (though, to be fair, the resulting muddy conditions made every ensuing set seem nearly unbearable, helping MMJ by comparison; I’m sure that’s what kept me from getting into Steve Winwood).
I bring this up because this week, the Kentucky five-piece is playing a string of nearly sold-out shows at New York’s Terminal 5, where they’ll play one of their albums in its entirety at each show, plus a selection of additional assorted hits, all for charity. At first glance, this fits comfortably into a trend started by the ATP-curated Don’t Look Back series, where bands are invited to recreate classic albums in their entirety for an audience. Artists from all strata of pop music have gotten in on the act, even going so far as to schedule whole tours around a single album, like the Pixies recent Doolittle anniversary shows or Weezer’s upcoming, imaginatively titled Blinkerton tour.
It doesn’t fit perfectly, though. There are certain connections between a number of the acts taking part in these types of shows that My Morning Jacket doesn’t share. For example, most of the bands usually focus on one album that has an element of consensus to their album choice (Suicide! Daydream Nation! Raw Power!); the album has been fixed into the firmament of great music already and this is just a victory lap.
Other artists are established enough that they can choose a few highly regarded albums to cycle through: Springsteen had the luxury of selling out shows where he’d play one of five classics all the way through during each performance. Or, to reuse an earlier example, Weezer will be ignoring much of their last decade of work on their upcoming tour in favor of focusing on their self-titled debut and Pinkerton.