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Jim James at the Fonda Theatre: Concert Review

Jim James at The Fonda - P 2013
Chris Godley

The Bottom Line

Spiritual ruminations meet perfected jam sessions during the My Morning Jacket frontman's two-hour set. 

Venue

Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles (Saturday, May 11)

The My Morning Jacket frontman goes track-by-track through his solo effort before switching gears to an encore that included a caped cameo by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst.

Jim James' hair is gloriously alive. During solos where the My Morning Jacket frontman hunches over his guitar, the enormous mane overshadows everything else, giving the impression that strands of hair are furiously strumming the instrument.

The opening of James' set Saturday at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, however, began in a more composed manner. The multi-instrumentalist and singer, attired in a suit and tie, led the evening with songs exclusively from his ambitiously titled solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, released Feb. 5.

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Beginning with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U),” the bass-grooving album opener, James went track-by-track through Regions. The dense solo album’s spiritual inclinations were previously stated by the singer to be inspired by the "hazy dream" of a robot and 1929 graphic novel God’s Man. And the reflective interludes, chants and saxaphone solos  initially were a stark contrast to the Southern alt-rock sensibilities of My Morning Jacket. 

“I use my state-of-the-art technology/Now don’t you forget it: It ain’t using me,” he crooned. 

“Know Til Now,” the first single released from the album, featured a sound akin to material that producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) could've conjured for James Mercer's Broken Bells project or Beck's Modern Guilt. "Dear One," a standout track on Regions, was punctuated by two precisely executed drum solos that drew cheers from the standing crowd at the packed venue.

Like the album, the songs transitioned seamlessly into one another, and James didn’t see the need to break up mood by adding any topical comments. His first words were a cryptic introduction to the fourth song, the sparse “A New Life.”

At times, the expanded live versions of the Region tracks took stabs at grand gestures. The bleak solos of Pink Floyd’s "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" and the manic tone of Radiohead's "The National Anthem" appeared to be influencers. 

Throughout the set, James ambled about the stage in a playful mood. He snatched what looked like a bronze ornamental bear prop and playfully twirled around before returning it to its proper place. And, periodically, he would freeze in position, stare out at the audience and smile as if there were some joke that the crowd was missing.

At the conclusion of album closer “God’s Love to Deliver,” James only briefly stepped away from the stage before starting the encore with acoustic tracks. His rendition of the latter-day My Morning Jacket song "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" was helped by stripping the string accompaniment that made the track sound rom-com syrupy on the album. 

From there, the evening finally switched gears to head-nodding rock jams when James broke out material from his supergroup side project, Monsters of Folk. 

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During "Dear God," the most notable track from the self-titled album, the hirsute frontman was joined by fellow Monster of Folk, Conor Oberst, for a cameo verse. The Bright Eyes singer appeared on stage wrapped in black cape and added his voice to a few lines before unfurling the cape with arms outstretched for the remainder of the track. At the end of the song, he covered his head and vanished offstage. 

The set continued with three more Monsters of Folk tracks -- "His Masters Voice," "The Right Place" and "Losin Yo Head" -- before ending with a rousing song from James' contribution to New Multitudes, a Woody Guthrie tribute album, called "Changing World."

Then, the singer inexplicably snatched the ornamental bear once again and appeared as if he were going to toss it into the audience. He seemed to offer it a prayer before setting it aside and leaving the stage for good. 

Prepared Set List: 

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)
Know Til Now
Dear One
A New Life
Exploding
Of the Mother Again
Actress
All Is Forgiven
God's Love to Deliver

Encore:

Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Dear God (with Conor Oberst)
His Master's Voice
The Right Place
Losin Yo Head
Changing World 

Email: erik.hayden@thr.com

Twitter: @THRMusic, @Erik_Hayden

Chris Godley