Jim James is no stranger to Bonnaroo. The My Morning Jacket frontman's band first played here in 2003 with a painfully early noon set. They've returned—on bigger stages at better times—five times since, but Friday marked James' first appearance as a solo musician.
"People come to ‘Broo to live out a fantasy life," James told the festival earlier this year. "It’s an escape from reality for everyone in a very fun way and we try to...project a vibe that is hopefully friendly and positive. We are there to go on this trip with them and to make it as fantastic as possible."
As part of Friday's trip, James and his band frequently took detours from the recorded tracks on his debut album Regions of Light and Sound of God, adding in electric guitar, drum and sax solos and retaining the winding, free-form nature of MMJ.
James has been known to stretch Regions highlight "All Is Forgiven" to epic, 30-minute plus lengths. Friday's version was a bit more restrained, but a breakdown of the eastern-influenced jazz track reveals the song's multiple layers live.
7:46 pm: The track begins with a slightly longer drum buildup than on record, anchored by a slow, steadily crescendoing bass drum kick by James' drummer and childhood friend Dave Givan.
7:48: Givan and the bassist lock in to a slow-funk groove while James begins scatting over the song's snake charmer melody.
7:50: As the band jams, James skulks around the stage, equal parts hypnotic trance subject, jungle animal hunting for food and glorious, disheveled lunatic.
7:51: The band shifts into punishing tribal drumming and glitchy Kid A-style electronic. Slinky grooves give way to a dizzying, disorienting vibe as we move from an Indian seance to after-hours Berlin club.
7:53: James grab a sax and augments the atmosphere with a free jazz freakout. Albert Ayler's influence looms large on this part.
7:55: The musical ecstasy trip enters its comedown phase, mellowing out while the crowd roars its approval. The club has closed, returning full circle to the track's ominous beginning.