A wakeup call from My Morning Jacket

BRITT’S BESTS AND BUSTS
An opinionated take on the week in music, Sept. 26-Oct. 2.

Gig of the week

My Morning Jacket
(Historic Orpheum Theatre, Thursday, Oct. 2, 8 p.m., $36)

I’m not going to try and defend “Evil Urges,” the latest and, to my ear, least-likable of the six platters MMJ has released in its nine-year existence. But I appreciate the ambush.

After the band made like early Neil Young, then splashed a little Band and Allman Brothers on, then spread some Brian Wilson suntan lotion and reverb over the mix, and then went more eclectic still with a stiff dose of Southern soul and reggae (!) along with its Wilco and Elton John allusions on “Z” (2005), I was enthralled and contented that the Louisville quintet had shape-shifted enough. That certainly didn’t change after the pretty bonfire the live double-disc, “Okonokos,” made of all those empty cocoons from the growth process.

So when singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleader Jim James figuratively kicks himself in the nuts to achieve a strained falsetto that can match the staccato funk required of a vintage Prince jam through the first three tunes on “Evil Urges,” I am decidedly nonplussed. This is a flashback too far, the wrong socket wrench hauled out of the tool drawer. It is also a signal that MMJ won’t be content with any stylistic status quo. How many rock bands can make that claim nearly a decade down the line?

Besides, regardless of other stylistic circumstance, MMJ has always rocked in concert, their dual-guitar attack rolling to the fore. Gleaning their set lists from recent shows, over half the songs on the stupendous “Z” are represented, and while “Get Down On It” and “Cold Sweat” are missing from the encores since their now legendary Bonnaroo concert earlier this year, songs like “Cobra” and the anthemic closer, “One Big Holiday,” promise plenty of hijinks.

Here’s a surprisingly cogent video sampler of recent live shows and “making of” footage on tunes for the new disc released by the group’s record company.

Standing up vs. acting out

Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra
(Ted Mann Concert Hall, Saturday, Sept. 27, 8 p.m. $10 with a U of M discount; $40 otherwise)

James
(Fine Line Music Café, Saturday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m., $18 in advance, $20 day of show)

You can’t take the politics out of the Liberation Music Orchestra — the little big band (12 pieces) was created the night bassist Charlie Haden heard on his car radio that America was bombing Cambodia back in the late 1960s, and each of the group’s four discs since then have protested a different Republican administration. But listening to a genuinely innovative arranger like LMO’s Carla Bley galvanize old warhorses like “America the Beautiful,” “Amazing Grace” and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” while sterling jazz improvisers like trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, saxophonist Tony Malaby and drummer Matt Wilson (who should rent an apartment he is in town so often) provide their own shades of emotion is something that could put a poignant tear in the eye of a staunch Bush supporter.

Then there is James, a Manchester, England, septet reformed after a seven-year retirement, but still working that vintage Smiths formula of melancholic melodrama with ample doses of irony. Except this time, the politics are writ in neon. The title track of their comeback record, “Hey Ma,” features a chirrupy chorus that notes, “Hey ma/boys in body bags/comin’ home in pieces,” followed by the admonition, “Scratch the surface of liberals/There’s a beast underneath.” Another tune is titled “Whiteboy.” You get the gist.

Both LMO and James offer superb music. One opts for creative eloquence, the other giddy Molotov cocktails. Proceed according to mood and taste. (MinnPost’s Pamela Espeland writes more about LMO today.)

Lukewarm lefse and a winning Finnish out to sea

Nordic Roots Festival
(Cedar Cultural Center, Friday, Sept. 26 through Sunday, Sept. 28, variable times and admission charges)

Minnesota Orchestra’s “Sounds of the Sea”
(Orchestra Hall, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 26 and 27, 8 p.m., $25-$83)

Bless the Cedar Cultural Center for intrepid programming, and even for plumbing the roots of the region’s earliest immigrants with this annual Nordic Roots Festival. Also, forgive the gross generalization, but, generally speaking, Scandinavian folk music is exactly as exciting as you might expect — a big snooze. Fans of perennial Nordic Fest faves Vasen have no doubt already bought their tickets, and the Cedar is to wrap up the three-day event with “The merry pranksters of Nordic music,” Hoven Droven. But I for one do not mourn the morphing of the decade-old Nordic Fest into a more expansive Global Fest next year.

When it comes to Scandinavian soul, give me 20th century Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and perhaps his foremost current interpreter, Minnesota Orchestra music director (and fellow Finn) Osmo Vänskä. Osmo will be conducting Sibelius’s “The Oceanides” this weekend, a tone poem that sends its refrains in waves but is mostly interested in the sea nymphs of Greek mythology rather than the icy brine up north. Vänskä follows that up by teaming with 20-year-old pianist Lise de la Salle (who gave a Schubert Club recital last year) on Ravel’s “Concerto in G Major,” and then diving into Ralph Vaughn Williams’ epic “Sea Symphony” after intermission.

Overrated

Beck
(Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m., $37.50)

The Eagles
(Target Center, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m., $50-$185)

I’ve heard that Beck is a genius ever since “Loser” descended upon us in the mid-1990s, but with each passing album, he feels more and more like a ham-handed dilettante, conflating musical stereotypes with too much irony and precious little soul, a kindred spirit to ex-Letterman schmoe Chris Elliott. The Eagles would like us to think they disdain the “Hotel California” ethos, when in fact they’ve been selling shares in that fatuous, narcissistic lifestyle whenever their bank accounts can’t pay off the commissions of their hedge fund managers. “Desperado,” indeed.

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