There are two things that always come up when My Morning Jacket's Jim James is mentioned: his hair, and his fondness for the music of the Muppets. "That's what I want our music to be some day," he told NME last year, "something that kids can understand and adults can love."
But if this is Kermit's house band, then all the members are Animal - and they have as much collective hair as Sweetie-Pie, the lumbering, yellow-eyed monster. For the entire gig, James's face is invisible behind a thick, curly curtain, bolstered at the foundations by a proto-ZZ Top beard that swallows the microphone when he sings. Bassist, Two-Tone Tommy, is similarly shaggy. Only the keyboard player stands out - but his eyes, although visible, remain half closed as he pounds away at the back of the stage.
As a result, My Morning Jacket never connect with the audience. It doesn't help that James plays his solos hunched over, with his back to the crowd. This is a shame: on record, the band's appeal lies in their heartbreakingly lonely songs, strummed delicately behind a reverb-heavy vocal. Live, they prefer to rock out as heavily as possible, headbanging around the stage like Motorhead. Lowdown, a jaunty, yearning little tune, becomes a straightahead stomper. And on Phone Went West, the keyboard player gets only a brief chance to shine before he is buried by the others playing as hard as they can - as they do for much of the gig. The distinctive longing of the songs is inaudible.
Only on James's solo acoustic encore does the band's distinctive brand of romance filter through. As he lifts his plaintive voice into the graceful chorus of Bermuda Highway - "Don't let your silly dreams/ fall in between/ the crack of the bed and the wall" - the crowd is silenced and spellbound.
Wailing through The Bear, a heavy lament with long, dreamy vocal lines, he drifts off key. Can it be that all that reverb is a crutch, cranked up to disguise a shaky singing voice? No: there is a simpler explanation. "You know, one disadvantage to havin' this much hair is that it goes down my throat sometimes," James says. "That whole song, I had a big chunk down there. I know it's kinda gross, but..." He pauses to fish a lock out of his nose. "But it is worth it. The benefits greatly outweigh the disadvantages."