Last Friday saw My Morning Jacket frontman and beard authority Jim James return to Philadelphia for the first time in over three years, hot off the release of his two-week-old second album Eternally Even. James brought his unique blend of psychedelic and roots music to the Fillmore along with Louisville natives Twin Limb, who opened for My Morning Jacket on dates of their most recent tour. Twin Limb consisted of Lacey Guthrie, who brandished an accordion throughout the night and carried lead vocals, Maryliz Bender, who played on what looked like a half-assembled drum set and provided vocal harmonies, and Kevin Ratterman, who dished out a bevy of spacy guitar layers and whom I also recognized as the guitarist for James on his previous solo tour. Noticing this, I began to wonder if he would be pulling double duty for the night.
As Twin Limb took the stage and got to work, they instantly reminded me of a more groove-driven Beach House. Bender and Guthrie handled the vocals with great ease, creating spacey harmonies accentuated by the wafting accordion and reverb-heavy guitar strums. All three faces were littered with glitter and sparkles, telling me from the beginning that they meant business.
Finishing their set, the band exited the stage after voicing their thanks–but their gear remained. To my surprise, as James’ band began to take the stage after the intermission, including a bass player that bared a striking resemblance to Glen Hansard, as well as his previous drummer but with some added follicle volume, the members of Twin Limb among were them. Lastly James came out, sporting a pair of throwback sunglasses. It only made sense: Jim James seems like the kind of guy to have his backyard friends not only come on tour with him, but be his backing band as well; it spoke volumes to the kind of community that music encourages.
The show began with “Hide in Plain Sight,” the hazy opener to Eternally Even, which was released tellingly on the Friday before election day. As was evident throughout the show, this album saw a departure from James’ usual subject matter, trading mystical allusions for politically charged exhortations. Both on the album and in the performance, James expressed his frustration with apathy and hate, calling upon the listener and the crowd alike to shed their complacency for something greater.
As the opening song finished, I wondered if the entire album would be played front-to-back, the method used when James performed at Union Transfer three years prior. However, I was pleased to see that he would vary the setlist throughout the night, going straight into “Know ‘Til Now,” the insanely danceable track off of James’ debut album Regions of Light and Sound of God. Whereas the show’s opening seemed infinitely more serious and somber, this song brought an upbeat swing that set the tone for the rest of the performance. James would make his from one side of the stage to the other, taking plenty of time to survey the crowd from behind his tinted sunglasses. He would trade songs between his two albums for the majority of the night, switching between tightly-composed tunes from the first, such as “Dear One” and “Actress,” and free-form jams from the second, like the two-parted “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger,” as well as a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.” The main set was closed with the title track from Eternally Even, a washy semi-ballad which itself was fairly positive compared to the rest of the album. As the song came to an end, the band left the stage one at a time as loops began to play, until only their sound remained.
The encore break was short-lived, with the band returning for “Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)” from Monsters of Folk, a band featuring James as well as Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and M. Ward of She & Him. James followed up with “Of the Mother Again,” another cut off his debut album, and “Down on the Bottom,” a song with lyrics originally penned by Bob Dylan that was put to music by James and others such as Elvis Costello and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes under the name The New Basement Tapes. This song in particular showed what James’ world of music is all about, stretching across genre and time alike, bringing something new to something old. The show was closed with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” the opening track of Regions of Light, which addresses the place of technology in the world today. This song saw Jim return to his stand-alone guitar for moments of heavily-compressed wailing as the lights dropped each time he sang “I think the power’s going out”. As the song came to a close, he left his guitar to distort on stage, giving his thanks and making his exit as John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” issued James’ goodnight over the house speakers and drove his message home one last time.