My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses rock, haunt Stage AE

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When the concert schedule was unveiled back in the spring, that late August date with My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses sure looked good on paper.

It was even better live, as both bands delivered to the hilt Tuesday night at a packed Stage AE.

The common thread between the indie-rock powerhouses are the siren voices of MMJ's Jim James and BOH's Ben Bridwell, both of which sounded angelic, immaculate, haunting, flat-out amazing, rising up over the cool, cloudy North Shore.

My Morning Jacket is, quite simply, one of the best live bands on the planet -- the place where indie-rock and jam-rock meet. Not only is the Kentucky quintet heavier than a lot of metal bands (seriously), it can take off into majestic art-rock, sound as psych-folky as the Dead or tear into a soulful Southern jam to rival the Allman Brothers.

Occasionally, some of that will happen in the same song (see "Easy Morning Rebel").

Mr. James has a big weapon in his arsenal, and he's not afraid to use it, as anyone who has heard the howls on "Wordless Chorus" would know. On Tuesday, the fully engaged fans raised their arms and howled along with him, as he prowled the stage with his long wild hair and azure blue, hooded cape.

Behind him is a band -- guitarist Carl Broemel, keyboardist Bo Koster, bassist Tommy Blankenship and drummer Patrick Hallahan -- that, going on 15 years, hauls it like a "Steam Engine," which happened to be the title of the heavy 12th song.

MMJ plays a sprawling, two-and-a-half hour set, so if you're tagging along with a friend and don't know the material, it's a long night -- especially with Mr. James using his high lonesome voice more as an instrument than a narrative tool.

No one could complain that it all sounds alike, though. MMJ mixed big slow-burns like opener "Rollin' Back" and the vintage "I Think I'm Going to Hell" with the easy flowing likes of "Lowdown" and such driving rockers as "Outta My System" and "First Light," a rare Beatles-style rave-up.

"Master Plan," with its hint of "Bad Company," was a monstrous metallic jam complete with a showdown between Mr. Broemel's fierce guitar and Mr. Koster's classic organ swirl. The pretty seduction of "Librarian" was as folky as it got, until the encore when the Band of Horses returned to let his voice soar with Mr. James on "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)."

My Morning Jacket pulled out some of the big guns late, closing with "Magheetah," on which Mr. James sounds like a one-man choir, and returning for a six-song encore highlighted by "I'm Amazed" and the furious, jaw-dropping jams on "Lay Low" and "One Big Holiday."

The only thing missing from the set was the surprise cover, which lately has included The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" (and it was the late Joe Strummer's 60th birthday!), George Harrison's "Isn't it a Pity" and Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man."

Mr. James stopped once during the proceedings to praise the city ("You got yourself a little slice of heaven here") and tease a television show he's working on about the early days of steel making.

Band of Horses, one of Seattle's finest, opened with an hour-long set that was worthy of headliner status.

The five-piece had a similar range, going from shoegazing epics ("The First Song," "The Great Salt Lake") to glorious indie-pop ("Is there a Ghost," "No One's Gonna Love You") to the rootsy "Everything's Gonna Be Undone" from the new album, "Mirage Rock," due on Sept. 18 and sounding like a good one.

Mr. James came out to harmonize on another new song, "Slow Cruel Hands of Time."

After the organ-fueled "Infinite Arms," complete with dark guitar squalls, Mr. Bridwell, said, "I was trying to see if we could make it rain, damn."

Those drops came, appropriately enough, during the band's anthemic finale "The Funeral."

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Scott Mervis: and on Twitter @scottmervis_pg.


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