Though it had been almost eight years since My Morning Jacket was last on “Austin City Limits,” the Louisville, Ky., band clearly felt on familiar turf Monday night at ACL Live. In addition to an hourlong episode taped in 2008 at the show’s old Studio 6A home, they’d done a half-hour episode three years prior. And singer Jim James had since made appearances with Monsters of Folk, during the final Studio 6A season, and for his own solo episode three years ago in the new space.
Introducing the band, ACL executive producer Terry Lickona noted only half-jokingly that James might soon be “right up there with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett” in career appearances on the show. James has a ways to go to reach that double-digit realm, but among non-Texans, he must indeed be getting near the top of the show’s list.
One effect of such multiple appearances can either be positive or negative, depending on your perspective. Because it’s a priority for the program to present entirely different material when acts make repeat appearances, the group avoided any selections from “Evil Urges” (2008) and “Z” (2005), as those had been the focus of previous ACL shows.
If those in attendance really loved that period of the band’s oeuvre, they might have come away from Monday’s show missing those moments. On the other hand, the eight-year gap since the last taping meant James and company had not one but two albums they could explore deeply, and they took full advantage.
Last year’s Grammy-nominated album “The Waterfall,” which brought My Morning Jacket to town last fall for an Austin Music Hall show, was the primary draw, and the band played seven of its tracks. But they kicked off the night with “Circuital,” the title track from their 2011 album, and sprinkled three more tunes from that record throughout a 10-song main set and five-song encore.
A clear highlight from “Circuital” was the encore-opening “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” with James switching to acoustic guitar for a rare quieter passage in a show that was dominated by My Morning Jacket’s trademark densely psychedelic yet richly melodic wall of sound. James and guitarist Carl Broemel often engaged in vibrant guitar duels at stage left and right, while bassist Tom Blankenship and drummer Patrick Hallahan anchored the thunderous rhythm section up the middle. Keyboardist Bo Koster filled in the gaps with a broad palette of atmospherics, sometimes ethereal, sometimes jarringly cutting.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the night was the inclusion of a brand new song, “Throwback (When We Were Young),” early in the set. Effortlessly propulsive and with an instantly infectious melody, the song built momentum toward fascinating guitar interplay between James and Broemel at the end of the song that felt like it could have continued endlessly.
Those who loved the old stuff did get a few bones tossed their way was well, as the band played three tracks from 2003’s “It Still Moves” — including the grand finale “Magheetah,” an obvious crowd favorite that brought nearly everyone in the full house to their feet. Oddly devoid of between-song dialogue the entire night, even as he seemed quite energized and charismatic, James finally uttered a quick thank-you at the end, along with a thumbs-up and wave of peace signs to throngs of adoring fans. No doubt they’ll be back next time, as James continues going for that ACL appearances record.
2. Believe (Nobody Knows)
3. Spring (Among the Living)
4. Slow Slow Tune
5. Throwback (When We Were Young)
6. Tropics (Erase Traces)
7. Only Memories Remain
9. In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)
10. I Will Sing You Songs
11. Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
12. Get the Point
13. Victory Dance
14. Compound Fracture