A Night at the Rock Show with My Morning Jacket
By John Milward
Concerts are a guaranteed good date, unless, perhaps, you’re of a certain age. That didn’t occur to me six months ago when a few minutes after they went on sale, I bought tickets to see My Morning Jacket perform their fifth album, Evil Urges, at New York’s Terminal 5. It would be the last night of a five-night run during which the band would play each of its five discs alongside the playfully hip covers that have long been part of the band’s show.
Surprisingly, the Jacket’s Manhattan marathon got virtually no coverage in the city’s daily papers. This might have been because it coincided with the College Music Journal convention and concert fest. Another possibility is editorial disdain for mainstream rock– there were also no reviews of a recent club show by Robert Plant and his Band of Joy.
Anyway, on the appointed date, we hiked down 56th Street to Terminal 5, which is located about as far west as you can go without falling into the Hudson River. After a full-body frisk rivaling anything I’ve gotten at an airport, we walked in as the opening act, Everest, was playing at a volume that sent us retreating to the far reaches of the balcony where we sat to wait for the main attraction. (Back in my rock critic days, I would have been familiar with Everest. Now, I scanned the Amazon previews, determined that the band was pretty good, and then ignored them anyway.) During the break, we returned to the orchestra section and shimmied a third of the way to the stage.
The crowd was subway tight. My wife Margie is five-foot-three and could see nothing but shoulders surrounded by six-foot guys who were pumped for the show. Her 58-year-old spouse could negotiate sight-lines between heads half his age. The lights dimmed, and as My Morning Jacket slipped into the opening riff of “Evil Urges,” I turned to see Margie literally crouching while putting fingers in her ears. This was not a good sign, but also not without reason; My Morning Jacket was not just loud, but the kick drum and bass combined to pound the chest like the fists of a dogged featherweight.
A lifetime of rock show’s has thankfully left me with ears that can still somehow countenance the din. But Margie, who’s been to a rock show or three, was stuffing her ears with tissues, and finally announced that she was returning to our balcony hideaway. Calling Miss Manners! What’s a loving husband to do? Okay, I confess, I stayed, and while I enjoyed the show, the separation was something of a buzz kill. During the encores, I found Margie peering at a TV monitor from the top of a protective stairwell. We caught Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” from the edge of the orchestra crowd.
None of this is meant to slag My Morning Jacket but to note the moment that the general admission rock scene has gotten to be a hard sell for this old guy, and is officially over for his wife. The next night, Margie stayed home to gird up for Monday while I went to the see Eliza Gilkyson play for about a hundred fifty-and-sixtysomethings. (Between her two sets, I overheard one wag saying she better get back on stage before the audience started to nap.) Gilkyson performed Neil Young’s “I Am a Child” alongside her own sweet gems (the tune’s included on Red Horse, her recent trio album with John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky). As she sang Young’s sweet toast to the passing of youth, I couldn’t help but think of a lifetime of rock shows going back even before seeing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Fillmore East.
What would come next? As it happens, Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West at the Metropolitan Opera. We’ll sit up in the nosebleed Family Circle, but the view is unobstructed, and the reasonable admission allows us to indulge in plastic flutes of champagne at the intermission. As for the next rock show, truth be told, even before the My Morning Jacket concert, I thought it prudent, if painful, to resign myself to not spending New Year’s Eve with the Drive-By Truckers at, yes, Terminal 5.