By Bill Zaferos   Published Nov 22, 2006 at 5:17 AM
My Morning Jacket didn’t so much play a set at the Riverside Theater Tuesday night as explode into one.

From the moment they opened with “Wordless Chorus” from their album Z, to the closer at the end of a 35-minute encore, “Mehgeetah,” from “It Still Moves,” My Morning Jacket ripped through a set that fried a mostly full house at the Riverside with a 105-minute show leaving little to be desired.

The Riverside was the perfect venue for this type of show – large enough for MMJs’ big sound, but small enough to keep things intimate. That was probably a good thing, since it was not altogether clear lead singer/guitarist Jim James knew his venue well. During one of the few times he addressed the crowd he expressed amazement that the Riverside was indeed near a river and he also marveled at the Riverside’s architecture, commenting that the ceiling looked like part of a large creature.

But no matter where James thought he was playing, he and the band did a great job of giving everybody what they wanted. And this band wasn’t just tight – it was airtight. MMJ has a reputation as a jam band, but these were no loitering slackers on stage Tuesday night. Rather, they played like a good political campaign; always on message, but with just a little room to improvise and provide color. The Louisville band was smooth as Kentucky bourbon with an equal punch.

The reggae-tinged “Off the Record,” with its “Hawaii 5-0” riff, had anyone who wasn’t already dancing in the aisles on their feet and into the festive atmosphere, and “One Big Holiday” had everyone twisting out of their seats while “What a Wonderful Man” was, well, wonderful.  “Lay Low” provided a nice groove in spite of its title, and only during the plodding “Gideon” did things get a little slow.

Even then James and drummer Patrick Hallahan were the main attractions. James thrashed about throughout the set like a man possessed, his mane flying every which way, while Hallahan pounded the drums as though he was meting out punishment to a million unseen demons.

But nowhere were there endless, aimless jams. Every note was played for a purpose, every one of them made an emphatic point, and numbers ended with a punctuality that prevented things from getting drawn out. It was controlled chaos, a tight cacophony where every note made sense; every drum beat drove it home.

The opening act, Louisville’s three-piece Wax Fang, had a great sound but was better when it stuck to straight-ahead rock and roll and avoided long suites that seemed to have no direction. They would have done well to follow MMJ’s lead and stick to concise, catchy yet complex pop music.