Live, My Morning Jacket are awesome – you could play them against Foo Fighters with no doubt at all as to who would be the winners. They begin with a five-song assault that seems to cow even the weather on a day of repeated downpours – the cloud gods only dare to release more water once the two-hour set has finished. In between, Jim James whirls like a dervish in a raincoat and a Rebekah Brooks wig, glowing sampler round his neck before switching to guitar. His fellow lead guitarist, Carl Broemel bashes, tugs and bends soaring licks from his own axe.
This band are all about guitars and tunes. Yes, Bo Koster's keyboards create a huge soundscape, and Patrick Hallahan's drum sound mirrors his own red-shirted, larger than-life performance, but it is all in the service and the celebration of the noise of the electric guitar, and the way it can allow great pop tunes to transcend their form. James and Broemel are not post-modern, or ironic, or apologetic about the noise-monsters they wield. They are not constrained by the expectations of genre. They are not fourth-generation cock-rockers. They just wig out, with joyous abandon.
Their ace, or course, is James's gorgeous songs. The set is constructed around their sixth and latest album, Circuital, which Andy Gill in this paper described as maybe their best, and the last, Evil Urges, which I perhaps still marginally prefer. On record, the shifts in mood and tone can be dislocating – they can sound like Scissor Sisters or Neil Young; in one song the vocals are falsetto, in another they are gruff, in another they sound like Nick Drake. Gill called this "patchy" but to me it recalls the best albums of the Sixties and Seventies – Bowie, Beatles and so on – where artists were exuberantly open to possibilities. In any event, live, power replaces dislocation. Anthem follows anthem as daylight admits defeat and the Union Flag wraps itself ever tighter around the flagpole behind the stage at this beautiful courtyard venue.
The end of the set approaches with James and Broemel on their knees. When James returns for the encore – itself a mini-set – he is in a cape, and with a white towel over his head, looking like Igor from Young Frankenstein. My Morning Jacket are, indeed, a monster. They could take over the world. And the world would be a better place for it.