During my years working at Madison Square Garden, I’d occasionally be passing through the arena during the day for one reason or another, and once in a while I caught some pretty cool behind-the-scenes stuff. One of the coolest of those that I can remember was basically witnessing the actual moment a band was seeing their dreams come true.
It was a weekday mid-afternoon, I was walking on the arena floor as the seating was being set up, and a cluster of scraggly looking young men were just entering from the backstage ramp. It was the members of My Morning Jacket, who would be headlining to a sold-out crowd that night, and they were staring up at the famed pinwheel ceiling, looking around awestruck, and seeming like nothing so much as the underdog Hickory High basketball team in “Hoosiers” when they first access the enormous Fieldhouse where they’ll play the Indiana state championship game (you remember the scene, right, when Gene Hackman breaks out the tape measure?). I don’t know the exact date and year, but it almost certainly was around 2008 when the band’s 5th album, “Evil Urges,” had pushed them to another level, a level where having previously played small to mid-size venues in New York, they would now be playing the proclaimed World’s Most Famous Arena, a gig that throughout The Garden’s storied history has represented for most bands the pinnacle of rock and roll stages. While trying not to be too obtrusive, I too was staring, transfixed by the band’s leader, Jim James, (a guy whose gaze often seems a bit transfixed itself). He was wearing a brown corduroy jacket, his hands stuffed deep in the pockets, and he was continuously turning slow circles, apparently mesmerized by the massive room. But I then thought, maybe he was equally overwhelmed by both the building and the moment. Originating out of an Indie rock scene in Louisville, Kentucky, My Morning Jacket had, at this point, been a band for a decade, and had already achieved formidable success. But this – Madison Square Garden in New York City – symbolized something else. It probably denoted the culmination of their life’s dreams; No, glancing back at the amazed expression on James’s face, in all likelihood it vastly exceeded those dreams. My friend and former associate, Scott O’Neil, a one-time MSG President, used to speak often about creating unforgettable, lifetime experiences, referring to those of the tens of thousands of patrons attending an event on any given night. Here, by stroke of luck and a coincidence of timing, I was instead seeing the enduring, career-defining instant for 5 guys in a Rock & Roll band. Gazing up agape like Ollie, Strap, Jimmy, Buddy and Coach Dale in “Hoosiers,” it was the moment of recognition that My Morning Jacket had beaten the odds, upset all the favorites, and were about to be crowned champions. Now all they had to do was play the show.
This song, ‘I’m Amazed,’ the biggest hit from the aforementioned “Evil Urges” album that established their big-time breakthrough, wasn’t written about our brief shared moment on the floor of The Garden. But it seems like maybe it could’ve been.
“Hoosiers” Fieldhouse scene
Incredible bonus clip: ‘One Big Holiday’, roughly 5 years before MSG (Conan: “I am buying that record!”)