Live Music: Jim James & Cold Specks at Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto

Jim James & Cold Specks at Phoenix Toronto

We headed to the Phoenix Concert Theatre on Wednesday to see one of our favourite live acts, Jim James. Better known as the singer and lead guitarist of the band My Morning Jacket, James was in town for his only Canadian date on this tour, promoting his new solo LP, Regions of Light and Sound of God. We saw him last summer at Echo Beach with MMJ and it was easily one of our favourite live shows of 2012.

Toronto’s own Cold Specks opened up the show delivering a strong, confident set. Singer Al Spx’s voice is just as powerful live as it is on their album, I Predict a Graceful Explosion. We were reminded at times of Alabama Shakes, albeit with less shaking and a more subtle delivery.

The seemingly endless break between bands tends to be a lull in the evening most nights, but not if Jim James has anything to do with it. Known to curate the set break music, we certainly enjoyed hearing the eclectic tastes of James, especially when he plays obscure soul, R&B and gospel tracks. This gem specifically sent several to Shazam in an attempt to identify the song. All this is to say, Jim James is one of the best, touring “showmen” in the game.

The opening notes of the album’s first song State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U) further highlighted this as James came out in his finest, stylish suit. Jim looked extra dapper, especially when compared to the cape that he sometimes dons during MMJ shows. James and the four other band members were locked in right from the start, taking their time jamming out the songs in order from the album, which we’d heard at other tour dates was his standard setlist.

Knowing that didn’t provide even the slightest hint of disappointment when it was our turn to listen. When James picked up an alto sax and slid across the stage towards the end of the second song, “Know ‘til Now”, we knew we were all in for a great ride. The simple, yet effective backing lights gave the stage the feel of a vintage ride from the CNE.

After James and the band took the scenic route through the LP, they took a short break to return to the stage to play an assortment of music from other Jim James projects – most notably a bunch of My Morning Jacket songs. The highlights were the first two songs of the encore, “Wonderful” and from his side-project Monsters of Folk, “Dear God”, continuing with a smattering of more obscure songs. Given their extensive repertoire, we had hoped to hear a few more rollicking MMJ faves, but approaching the two-hour mark, there really wasn’t much room to complain. Don’t miss seeing Jim return to Toronto with My Morning Jacket this summer alongside Bob Dylan and Wilco in what promises to be a sweet show.

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