by The Spin
Between Rites of Spring and Commodore Quake, Vanderbilt manages to host some befuddlingly diverse but college-friendly concerts. And on Thursday night, as The Spin was ushered into the photo pit for Trey Songz' first three ... um, songz — our press pass got us in there, so thanks for that, Vandy! — the dichotomy of the crowd was immediately unmistakable. With the gym somewhere in the neighborhood of half full, Songz launched into a set of tunes about pining for girls and not wanting to come between a girl and her man, all the while being screamed at violently by a couple thousand young ladies. One girl near us, in fact, was absolutely certain that The Spin was a member of My Morning Jacket. We insisted that we were not, but she took a picture of us anyway. So that depressingly pointless photo is out there somewhere.
Seriously though, live R&B bands are some of the tightest in the game, and Songz' band was no exception. It's just that they were playing an ilk of modern Top 40 that we don't dig so hard, and the fact that booze wasn't being sold in the gym didn't make it go down any easier. Thankfully, a couple of the kids from Break on a Cloud (Hey, check out their blog!) were kind enough to let us tag along to the parking lot, where they hooked us up with a couple of generous gulps of Sailor Jerry's. Good lookin' out, BOAC! By the time we returned to our seats, some shaggy, North Face-sporting college bros had begun to file in, and the Trey fans were absolutely losing their shit — his shirt was off at this point, and while dude certainly seemed like he could carry a tune, he could have been flatly singing a half-time rendition of "My Ding-a-Ling" for all these young ladies cared. They wanted flesh, and flesh they got.
Now, all of our past experiences seeing My Morning Jacket have been at Bonnaroo — and during the first of those experiences, we were in an especially, shall we say ecstatic state of mind. (Don't judge us.) All that is just to say that, as much as we dig significant chunks of MMJ's catalog, we weren't sure if we'd be as enraptured in a non-Bonnaroo (Non-aroo?) setting. But the very moment we found ourselves with our chins practically onstage and Nashville-residing guitarist Carl Broemel's shoes in our faces — with Jim James' wild, golden Kentucky mane a halo in the strobe lights, a giant eyeball backdrop staring us down and a row of subwoofers rattling our rib cages — we were back at the 'Roo in spirit. At that proximity, the psychedelic Louisvillians' musicianship was unmistakable. And hey, we got to hear a song from Z ("Off the Record") right off the bat.
We then returned to our seats — which were stage-right and roughly parallel with the lip of the stage — where we noticed that four of the gymnasium's tiers were entirely empty. Like, not a soul. What's with that? Anyway, sound for most of the set was pretty boomy, and we found it difficult to make out the vocals. We'd like to give the room the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just where we were sitting, but we wandered around a bit and couldn't do much better anywhere else. Now, My Morning Jacket's long-winded, jammy interludes definitely aren't our favorite bits. It's the grooves, hooks and James' eternally spot-on falsetto acrobatics that get us going. But even if the jammy portions are your thing, it's hard to become transfixed when you're trying to discern which of the sounds you're hearing are guitars and which are organ. Still, that didn't stop many a glow stick-adorned Vandy kid from bobbing and swaying here and there.
Broemel was the obvious workhorse of the evening, contributing a bit of sexy sax to one extended, laid-back jam, and injecting some heartland-rock sonics into a few numbers via his trusty pedal steel. James also rocked what the Internet tells us was some sort of Roland sampler around his neck, its dials glowing like Darth Vader's life-support chest panels. Toward the end of their set, we were nearly slapped in the face by a flail-dancing coed (she must've found the booze somewhere), but a young lady behind us was kind enough to offer The Spin a spot next to her instead. And it's from there that we enjoyed My Morning Jacket's encore, which was precisely what you'd expect: James in his cape, singing melisma-drenched renditions of "Wordless Chorus," Circuital's epic "Holdin' on to Black Metal" — a return to the form we like seeing from MMJ — the ever-popular Prince-ripping "Highly Suspicious" and what is quite possibly their best song ever, "One Big Holiday." By then, the college bros — high-kicking, fist-pumping and air-guitaring like no one was watching — were getting off just as hard as the young ladies during Trey Songz' set had been getting off. And that's the memory we'll carry with us until the next time we're on Vanderbilt's campus. See you at Rites of Spring, dudes.