"I wish I could go to all five shows," said my boyfriend John, seated next to me in our grimy NJTransit train seat.
"Oh," I replied indifferently, because I was an ignorant asshole. I had never seen My Morning Jacket live before and I only knew one of their albums. We were headed to Terminal 5 to see them play the first show of a five-night run. They were going to play a different one of their albums each night: this particular night's album was The Tennessee Fire, the one I knew. I had it catalogued in my brain as a southern-ish dude singing really good, non-cheesy love/sad songs and harmonizing with himself exceptionally well. And reverb. Such reverb. I liked the album a lot, but I wasn't at a need-to-see-5-shows-level of fandom. (When I finally got around to listening to the rest of their albums, I couldn't believe that I was listening to the same band, because none of their albums sound similar at all AND THIS IS THE MAGIC OF MY MORNING JACKET.)
While waiting for the show to start, I remained indifferent and stared into my beer as John talked to a group of people who had roadtripped to New York from Louisville, Kentucky - MMJ's hometown. When one of the fans said "I'd marry Jim James," and John agreed, I started to wonder if I was missing out on some kind of experience listening to this band.
Then they came out and within a few seconds of hearing the opening notes of "Heartbreakin' Man," I said "wow" out loud, which is something I had never done before and haven't done since. The utterly godly presence MMJ brought to the stage instantly gripped me. (I am not exaggerating. Read the YouTube comments on any of their videos and godliness is the #1 most mentioned adjective.) I've seen a lot of bands live, but none have transitioned me from mild interest to OH MY GOD WAIT WHAT IS GOING ON THIS IS SO GOOD in mere seconds like My Morning Jacket did.
And now, four years later, I'm a massive Jacket nerd to the point where I actually embarrass myself (i.e. writing this list). I have journeyed to Louisville for them and waited hours on line to be on the rail at their shows. Why? Because of every reason on this list.
1. They're not assholes. They don't do anything douchey. They are humble. Their music is not self-indulgent, and I personally believe that this is because they are so naturally talented that they have no need to do anything but calmly bask in their own greatness.
2. Their live show is consistently the best show you'll ever see. They go out, play for two hours and impress everyone. There is no bullshit. They get into a zone and don't even really talk to the crowd until Jim says some stuff about the universe and beauty near the end of the show, and that's it.
3. Carl Broemel is a fucking boss. Though he isn't the leader of the band, he is the MVP, a ninja, a badass guitarist, pedal steel player, and saxophonist. His falsetto is angelic and his and Jim's voices are harmony soulmates. Here is everything you need to know about Carl, featuring an epic freakout by the person who filmed this. He is all of us when we watch Carl.
4. No band has a more impressive collection of beards + long hair (IT'S ALL ABOUT THE COMBO).
5. Jim James has feminist tendencies. In a Pitchfork interview last year, he had this to say:
"There's a lot of great lessons in Catholicism, but a religion created by angry, old, greedy white men that doesn't value women as equal is fundamentally fucked."
"As long as we've been alive, the world has been hugely tilted in favor of masculinity and is totally fucking itself because of it. "
I really appreciate that Jim's love songs avoid objectifying women - his lyrics favor looking at love through the lens of spiritual fulfillment. There's also the fact that he chose to cover the Woody Guthrie song "My Revolutionary Mind" when presented with hundreds of unfinished Guthrie lyrics to choose from and put to music: "I need a progressive woman / I need an awfully liberal woman / I need a socially conscious woman /To ease my revolutionary mind."
6. My Morning Jacket fans are the coolest and least offensive group of people. When you see them live, you will be able to make it through the entire show without being annoyed by your neighbor. People travel from far, far away to see MMJ. Their fans range from 3 to senior citizen. One night I was on the rail next to a guy in his 60s who flew from Nashville to New York to see them play three nights at the Capitol Theatre. Jim came to our side of the stage and touched the guy's outstretched hand, but my arm wasn't long enough to get close enough for this to happen. The guy noticed, grabbed my arm and held it out so that Jim would get me too, AND IT WORKED. THANKS DUDE. He, along with others, then blocked a super drunk girl from pushing her way to the front and screaming in all of our ears.
BONUS: because My Morning Jacket doesn't have "hits" - just a bunch of really excellent and wildly different albums - you don't get those people who come to their shows to hear 2 songs.
7. Their mascots are these two bears, Denise and Pooch, who are on stage at every show. It's cute. That is all.
8. The most legendary people respect them them. In the past year alone, MMJ have collaborated with Neil Young and Bob Weir, and they spent summer 2013 touring with Dylan. And they respect legends as well - like their long-standing friendship with Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and their invitations to Gil Scott-Heron collaborator Brian Jackson to cover "The Bottle" live.
9. They walk the fine line between inventiveness and integrity and never really stumble. They push their musical boundaries with every album and performance in an uncommon way.
10. Every one of their albums has a song that will make you dance, a song that you will rock out to, a song that will almost make you cry, and a song that makes you think "that was really weird and awesome."