My Morning Jacket | Okonokos (ATO)

Not coincidentally, my research determined that "Okonokos" is representative of a Hawaiian word for an unusually docile species of a bear with a growl that's so soothing, it lulls intruders and/or prey into a meditative, almost trans-like, state.

 

dvd_okonokosSitting at the Moolah Theatre with me and mine (actually, just my roommate Mac), all wrapped up in some bottles of Busch, there was little we could do but get our proverbial beards rocked off by My Morning Jacket's conceptual concert film, Okonokos. While the version we witnessed was abbreviated, it was a thoroughly sufficient visual statement of why the be-scraggled, Louisville band is arguably the United States' best answer to Radiohead. Wistful, dichotomized, and loaded with a powerful sensibility, Jim James and Co. burst, blaze, and float through an inspired set consisting of earlier MMJ favorites ("Lowdown," "O Is the One That Is Real"), as well as a wealth of instant classics from their most recent release, Z (pick any song).

Credited with the concept/story of Okonokos, James opens the film/full-version DVD in a sort of Southern Gothic/Victorian era home (enough backslashes for you?), where band members are unrecognizably interspersed among a party of the social elite. The film's only true "character," A. Man, emerges as a mustachioed voyeur, averting the audience's gaze from mounted zebra heads, lion rugs, and champagne flutes in favor of a domesticated alpaca. Together, man and animal exit to the obscurity of the droning D-note coming from beyond the woods, the undergrowth giving way to the Fillmore, where "Two-Tone" Tommy, Carl Broemel, Patrick Hallahan, Bo Koster, and James wait onstage, eager to rise among the Floydian illuminations of Marc Brickman with their "Wordless Chorus." Here, the introductory setting is largely abandoned (aside from occasional shots of A. Man grooving with his alpaca in the crowd), replaced beautifully by the visionary dreamscape of a Japanese growth forest draping the band.

Coupled with a series of chandeliers haunting the audience, the stage makes for an openly interpretive divisor, serving as an outline to a group that seems intent on blowing minds for the sake of the music itself. This is never evidenced more than when MMJ's glorious closer, "Mahgeetah" concludes, the bourgeois A. Man clearly impacted, yet blissfully unaware that his moment of artistic clarity will soon be ended by a bear attack. That's right, a bear attack, accompanied by the screen repeatedly flashing, "Okonokos!" Not coincidentally, my research determined that "Okonokos" is representative of a Hawaiian word for an unusually docile species of a bear with a growl that's so soothing, it lulls intruders and/or prey into a meditative, almost trans-like, state (got it?). Clearly, this is James' initiative directed toward the vacant music receptacles of the world, those who betray their natural instincts in favor of a more cultivated, yet worn aesthetic.

Okonokos' visual efforts are decidedly minimalist, however, as the music does indeed speak for itself. Some of highlights are "One Big Holiday" (probably one of the decade's best pure rock songs), the epic, crawling sensationalism of "Run Thru," and the soul-stretching "Steam Engine," which in itself is proof that sometimes the beat of a heart is all you really need, especially in modern rock. Whether it's Broemel's gentle slides, Hallahan's loosely powerful drumming, Koster's ambience, or "Two-Tone" Tommy's timeless posturing, James has plenty of reason to relax and let his soaring, backwoods voice take control of each and every moment. If there's anything to be said about Okonokos, it's that My Morning Jacket definitely reveals its ability to control its environment, or environments, freeing the feral and taming the compliant.

All in all, what I learned from the screening of the now-on-DVD Okonokos is this: If you refuse to embrace a purer form of rock, you will be attacked by bears…and if you do embrace such rock, you will win a raffle for a guitar signed by the band (this guy did). | Dave Jasmon

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