“Don’t let this go down as the night you couldn’t get a beer. Let this go down as the night you saw My Morning (bleeping) Jacket!”
That quote from emcee Jill Riley turned out to be the line of the night at Friday’s My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and Trampled by Turtles triple-bill at Somerset Amphitheater, which didn’t do much to reinvigorate concertgoers’ goodwill toward the outdoor venue after the cancellation of SoundTown last month but nonetheless delivered a crowd-pleasing musical experience.
With pricey multi-tiered camping fees, restrictive no-re-entry or tailgating policies, and disastrous food and drink setup, Somerset is still exhibiting significant growing pains as it figures out how to turn its remodeled venue into a desirable gathering place for music fans. Between waiting for a 21+ wristband, waiting for drink tickets, and waiting in line at the one (!) stand set up to distribute beverages to the 5,000 attendees, many of the fans I spoke with were reporting hour-long shifts spent in line and dismay at the event’s poor planning.
But the further away you got from the mile-long beer line, the happier fans became, as the music washed over the crowd and erased many of the negative vibes. Despite its organizational challenges, Somerset Amphitheater houses an incredible sound system and the listening experience was enjoyable from all corners of the massive space (and even the campground), and the sweet trains of Trampled by Turtles’ festival-tested opening set made for an ideal accompaniment to the setting sun. The Turtles sandwiched crowd favorites like “Victory” and “Wait So Long” between the more pensive tracks off their latest album, Stars and Satellites, ending their set with a sing-along to their biggest single of the year, “Alone.”
Band of Horses overcame a few minor technical difficulties to perform a satisfying middle set, with frontman Ben Bridwell’s voice sounding even more electric live than it does on record. The band debuted a new song, “Long Vows,” off their forthcoming Mirage Rock, but otherwise pulled from their impressive back catalog of hits, pairing “No One’s Gonna Love You” with the jangling “Laredo” and closing the set with a driving rendition of “Is There a Ghost.”
And My Morning Jacket capped off the evening with a lengthy, dramatic set that featured lead singer Jim James parading around in a bright blue cape and gigantic spotlights flooding the starry night sky.
“I feel like a small child at a county fair tonight,” James said, smiling out at the sea of fans as the smell of campfire and other pungent aromas filled the air.
I went into the show without a single opinion about My Morning Jacket (I’m casually familiar with their records and hadn’t seen them live), and somehow left the show with the exact same mindset. There’s certainly nothing overtly offensive about their music and they obviously feel passionate about the work they are doing on stage, but the set’s spectacular moments — namely, the punch of the opening four songs and an especially mind-expanding buildup and release in “Dondante” — were offset by a lengthy middle-of-the-set meandering that never seemed to pay off. I’m all for improvisation but the extended jams started to wear on me, especially as the temperature plummeted outside.
My opinions clearly placed me in the minority of attendees on Friday night, however, as the crowd remained engaged through almost the entire set (save for a mass exodus to the bathrooms during the wandering “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2”). And the encore provided the biggest highlight of the night, as James invited all five members of Trampled by Turtles to the stage to merge their cover of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” with My Morning Jacket’s original. It was wonderful, indeed.
My Morning Jacket set list: At Dawn / Circuital / Outta My System / Holdin’ on to Black Metal / The Dark / The Way That He Sings / Where to Begin / I Will Sing You Songs / Mahgeetah / It Beats 4 U / Wordless Chorus / The Day Is Coming / Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2 / Dondante / Phone Went West // Encore: Wonderful (The Way I Feel) / I’m Amazed / Anytime / One Big Holiday
Band of Horses set list: The First Song / The Great Salt Lake / Weed Party / General Specific / Long Vows / No One’s Gonna Love You / Laredo / Older / Cigarettes, Wedding Bands / The Funeral / Northwest Apartment / Is There a Ghost
Trampled by Turtles set list: Midnight on the Interstate / Walt Whitman / Sorry / Victory / Widower’s Heart / Risk / Wait So Long / Keys to Paradise / Bloodshot Eyes / Alone