Jim James solo live at the House Of Blues, Las Vegas, NV, October 12, 2004

"An evening of solo & collaborative performances featuring
 Bright Eyes, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) & M. Ward"

Thursday, October 21, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Kick Out the Jams: Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Jim James at House of Blues, Oct. 12

Politics have been much on the minds of these three artists of late. With Bright Eyes and Jim James recently coming off stop-the-Bush-terror tours, I expected much more rhetoric, many more philippics than were aired throughout the evening. Despite the absence of social commentary, the HOB evening of "solo and collaborative performances" embodied an ethic of fluid unity resulting in a balanced, organic show--each played roughly a 45-minute solo set, invited the next performer onstage to collaborate on a few numbers before handing over the spotlight, and then closed the show with a rock ménage a trois. Leading the country by example, perhaps. A feat indeed, given the emo ego-supreme Conor Oberst as headliner.

And the issue of ego played heavily into the evening, in various ways. Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) and the underappreciated genius of M. Ward peacefully co-existed onstage, exemplifying a sense of humility otherwise counterweighted by Oberst's own inflated sense of self. To overlook the center-stage affectations of Oberst, slumped in an armchair, strumming a bass guitar and insisting control with violent and off-beat knee slaps, takes a lot--from the audience as well as, I'm sure, from the stage. Neither Ward nor James seemed concerned with exaggerating their own presences to match Oberst, who, at another point, sat in the lotus position at stage front in order to be pawed by his harem of emo-angel teens.

Reports from various concertgoers seem to indicate M. Ward walked away the evening's favorite, even receiving an effusive laud from Oberst as "the best damn guitar player you've ever heard." Ward certainly exhibited the chops and sensitivity to back these claims. Crooning through many tunes from last year's Transfiguration of Vincent, Ward held the audience's attention any time he set foot onstage, striking Dylan-esque folk poses and soulfully milking his guitar. (One web message board posting confessed attending to see Bright Eyes but being tearfully converted by Ward's performance.) Watch for more from the likes of Ward. Even the sullen cardigan kids pulled their uniformly cut Conor-hair from their eyes, dazzled. Maybe, thanks to Ward, it'll be cool to smile again.--Chad Lietz

My Morning Jacket Live 2004