My Morning Jacket, Astoria, London

Astoria, London

It is two years since Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket last played in London. Their last scheduled gig was called off when singer Jim James went down with pneumonia just as their fourth album, Z, was released. That album saw them embellishing their trademark country-rock squall with dashes of Flaming Lips-esque keyboard detailing and pushing their poppy side to the fore.

A clutch of those pretty, synth-led songs open tonight's show. Suddenly, things that sounded on record like a band deliberately avoiding what they do best start to make sense. Even the faintly ditzy cod-reggae single Off the Record somehow rings true.

James' extraordinary, arena-filling voice is a little more playful and whimsical with melody than before, but still pitch-perfect. All the while he's bouncing around the stage like a little kid, his 360-degree mop of hair barely giving even a glimpse of his features.

Rapture greets the arrival of old favourite One Big Holiday, and the all-out rock band is back, complete with sweetly cacophonous build-ups and glorious Allman Brothers-style guitar duelling. It's a sound My Morning Jacket have mastered beautifully, and it's good to hear that it's not entirely left behind in the new material. The monumental Lay Low hits new psychedelic heights and, best of all, Anytime combines their bright new pop twist and that pounding rock classicism pretty much seamlessly.

There's the occasional lull - some of the electronics just don't quite gel, and now and then the long instrumental workouts fail to take off. But that's not often, and the two-hour set flies by with the old thrills taken further than ever, and a few new ones marking a skilful broadening of style. Just how it should be, and well worth the wait.

Tom Hughes

The GuardianTramp

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