I grew up in Louisville, and I know no other town is like it. Not only is it one of the kindest, easiest places to live, but it’s also very communal, and that goes for its music scene as well. So when My Morning Jacket went from playing the local coffeehouses to, for example, playing San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium to record this show for release on DVD, it felt like a big success for the town as well as the band. Okonokos (a two-disc live set as well as a DVD) captures one of the world’s best live bands at its peak, but it gives off the feeling that these are still nothing more than a few humble Kentuckians.
Despite being slapped with the Southern-rock and jam-band tags, My Morning Jacket transcends these critical pigeonholes. On 2005’s wonderful Z, the band explored reggae and electronic music and surf rock and even certain elements of soul. Previous albums contained songs that could blow your speakers (“Run Thru” off 2003’s It Still Moves) and songs that could rip your heart out (“I Will Be There When You Die” off 1999’s Tennessee Fire). It doesn’t come off as contrived or unoriginal, and this exploration is a big part of what makes My Morning Jacket’s live performance so powerful.
On stage, the band members–led by singer and songwriter Jim James–seem joyful and humble and take in the crowd and have an almost childlike sense of humor. All of that comes through on the Okonokos DVD. They rip through versions of “Phone Went West,” “The Way That He Sings,” and numerous tracks off Z that resonate through your soul, chased by the echo of James’s howl.
My Morning Jacket connects with its audience night after night in a way that some bands strive their entire careers to do. The flaws are there–an over-exerted voice, a missed guitar note–but Okonokos is a perfect representation of one of the best live bands around.