When My Morning Jacket Finally Got Around to Releasing a Live Album With ‘Okonokos’
Given My Morning Jacket’s long-standing reputation as a killer concert act, it’s surprising that they resisted the urge to make a live record until the band had released four studio albums. Perhaps founder and frontman Jim James was waiting for the Louisville group’s best lineup to gel before delivering something like Okonokos.
“The band is its own thing. Within the band we’ve been five, six different bands,” James told The Skinny in 2006. “And the current lineup is the most positive we’ve ever had. [Keyboardist] Bo [Koster] and [lead guitarist] Carl [Broemel] brought a lot of energy, spirit and enthusiasm. They make it fun again.”
By the time they recorded the double-live Okonokos in the fall of 2005, Koster and Broemel had been in the band for nearly two years, joining James, drummer Patrick Hallahan and bassist “Two-Tone” Tommy Blankenship. It’s clear that the time touring on 2003’s It Still Moves and recording/promoting 2005’s commercial breakthrough Z had forged a tight unit capable of expansive sounds.
Much of the material on the two-disc set comes from those two previous albums, which contribute concert staples such as the stuttering charge of “One Big Holiday,” the spacey jangle of “Mahgeetah” and the ethereal “Wordless Chorus.” But James and friends also dig into the first couple of My Morning Jacket LPs, updating “I Think I’m Going to Hell” and “Lowdown,” removing a bit of the murk from their studio versions.
That’s one of the differences between the recorded My Morning Jacket and the live animal – the grain silos full of reverb are gone. (There’s just a little fog clouding James’ voice.) The band sounds sharper and yet has room to run, stretching the already epic “Dondante” and “Run Thru” to wild stage explorations that found Broemel playing live saxophone and Hallahan pummeling his kit. Those kind of mammoth renditions are likely why Jim James was finally convinced he should capture his band’s concert talents.
“We wanted to make a live album that also sounded good – like a studio album, but live,” James told The Skinny. “We’ve never been able to do that until now. It’s always been a dream for us.”
Speaking of dreams, that’s where the singer-guitarist got the title for the live set, which was released on Sept. 26, 2006. The shows at which Okonokos was recorded were also filmed for a live DVD, featuring a prelude in which an old-timey reveler gets drunk, befriends a llama and stumbles upon a My Morning Jacket show in the woods.
“I wanted it to be a thing where we were playing somewhere in a forest,” James added. “It didn’t matter where it was, whether it was Scotland or the U.S.A. It didn’t matter at all.” The “forest” was actually the stage of San Francisco’s storied Fillmore West, festooned with branches, moss and fog to match the mystery contained in the music.
The DVD version, directed by Sam Erickson, was released in October 2006, a month after the audio edition. Years later, their lineup remains the same, as does the My Morning Jacket’s reputation for incredible shows. Okonokos documents the period when that lineup came into its own.
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