The music portion of SXSW 2013 helped kick off Tuesday night with Jim James leading the charge. During his intimate hour-long set for MTV, VH1 and CMT’s “Live in Austin” showcase, the My Morning Jacket frontman showcased what he can do when he’s forced to put down the instruments.
On tap for the evening was his debut solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, which was played in its entirety. James took the stage around 1 a.m. in a dapper suit and tie (thanks, JT), paired with his trademark shaggy hair and beard. His backing band started things off with a spacey intro, before slowly oozing into album opener “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.).” From there, the tone was set.
Instead of reveling in epic guitar jams My Morning Jacket has become known for, James’ solo project and backing band mix a bevy of influences. Over the years, James has collaborated with a diverse group of musicians such as Booker T. Jones, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and She and Him’s M. Ward. “Know Til Now” was filled with a heavy dose of reverb that floated over some serious swamp-funk grooves, while songs like “New Life” and the instrumental track “Exploding” sounded like they were indebted to classic songwriters like the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel.
James played and recorded nearly all the instruments on record along with his vocals. In concert, he’s doing just the opposite. Often he was front and center, crooning to the crowd with just a mic in his hand. He did break away for a sax solo at the end of “Know Til Now,” along with a handful of guitar solos, but largely the night belonged to James’ vocals.
Earlier in the evening, a substantial crowd turned out to see Ashley Monroe, one third of Miranda Lambert’s hell-raising country trio the Pistol Annies. She charmed the audience with tunes about waking up after too much Mad Dog 20/20 (“The Morning After”) and some curious odes to nature (“Weed Instead of Roses”). The bill was rounded out by Striking Matches, Elle King, ZZ Ward, Youngblood Hawke and Guards.