Jim James transfixes audiences on solo tour

As he joyously slid from side to side of the carpeted Crystal Ballroom stage and jumped in perfect unison with cymbal crashes while powering through “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” (his debut solo album) in sequential order, it was made apparent that Jim James, famous as the frontman and guitarist of My Morning Jacket, is mastering being a solo artist. Touring in support of his first solo album with a band comprised of old friends, James cast a spell over the crowd which was helplessly transfixed as he alternated between soul singer, guitar hero, saxophonist, dancing fool and overall unavoidable stage presence.

The setting sunlight spilled through the windows as the band took to the stage, casting an almost mystical glow which helped James set the mood for the opening song, “State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.).” He immediately made his presence felt, walking out to the edge of the stage, almost accidentally hopping onto the speakers with neon pink paper reminders stating “Please no Jim on speakers” (James suffered a bad stage fall after walking onto his rolling speakers a few years back.) As the song progressed, James reached out to play his mounted Flying-V guitar before also later soloing on the saxophone.

Oftentimes while touring with his primary band, My Morning Jacket, James will hide behind his shoulder length hair while singing in order to isolate himself from the audience. On this tour, James has successfully attempted to connect with the audience as he paced the stage, making eye contact with fans looking back up at him.

As the sun finally descended and the dark overtook the venue, James kicked off into an extended jam on “Dear One,” which proved to be a highlight of the night. Once the lyrics of the song finished, James stepped offstage and allowed the rest of the band to take the spotlight and crescendo into a jaw-dropping drum solo from Dave Givan which would make Neil Peart of Rush proud.

Working through the rest of “Regions of Light and Sound of God,” other standouts included the always entertaining “A New Life,” a dreamlike rendition of “Actress” and a haunting version of “All Is Forgiven.”

Following a brief break after the album’s close, James returned alone to the stage with only an acoustic guitar to play “Movin Away” off of My Morning Jacket’s most recent album, “Circuital.”
This was the only My Morning Jacket song of the night, as the band followed with four of the five songs James wrote for his collaboration with the Monsters of Folk, a supergroup consisting of James, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes.

“Dear God,” a desperate prayer ballad, provided a dark tone but pushed the set into an upbeat finish. “Losin Yo Head” had the entire band smiling and dancing in circles as James and Kevin Ratterman exchanged guitar solos.

The night ended with “Changing World,” an incomplete Woody Guthrie song that James added music to as a part of the New Multitudes band. Guthrie wrote the lyrics before his death, yet they seem as relevant today as ever as James pleads with the audience to “Change your ways/ In this changing world.”

Jim James is clearly an artist who tours for the love of the music. Every time he takes the stage, James exerts a happiness that few artists can replicate. This show earned an A grade for the vast diversity of the set and the personable vibe James created.