Jim James skated back and forth across the Majestic stage in his little, brown leather boots like some hip Hobbit. His new project, Regions of Light and Sounds of God, sounds like it could be the title of a Presbyterian sermon, but the music is pure mysticism and, even at the deafening volume he performed it, redemptive and soothing.
It's hard to overstate the religious feel of the My Morning Jacket frontman's new record. James has said he wrote most of the songs as he recovered from mental and physical injuries several years ago. On stage, as on the recording, the songs run together like Bible verses. James' lyrics are cadenced just like the music; he sings them in little starts and stops. His performance of "Know 'til Now," filled with organ and driven by a hard, popping snare, put the large crowd into a trance.
James' audience reflected his music: timeless. Fresh-scrubbed college students shook ass alongside grizzled old rock freaks. James can shred the guitar as well as anyone alive. It added to the organic tension of the show to see his trademark Gibson Flying V in a freestanding setup that allowed him to wander over to it and coax music from it whenever the mood struck him.
He produced a torrent of notes during "State of the Art (AEIOU)," turning the song into a 12-minute revelation. The best parts of the show were when he dimmed the energy levels for a soft song. James' voice seems to come with echo, even before the effects board. It's from another place. He crooned the hope-filled "New Life" with heartbreaking tenderness.
It could be the water, because James is among a line of Louisville-based creators who follow their muse into places no one else would think to look. Risk takers, rule breakers, dead and alive who seem incapable of getting out of the way of their own gifts (Hunter Thompson, Will Oldham). Yet James is generous on stage, and throughout the show he coaxed and cajoled his five-piece band to come out on the ledge with him.
And so the Capitol Square was a picture of excess Sunday night. James' two-hour-plus emotional marathon coincided with the final hours of Ironman athletes crashing through the finish line on Martin Luther King Drive. James didn't disappoint My Morning Jacket fans as he rounded the corner into an extensive encore set that included the enchanting "Wonderful" from the band's 2011 release, Circuital.