A lot of this seemed related to the material: with the band's newer songs (including a healthy dose of songs from the upcoming Evil Urges, which includes "Highly Suspicious," where Jim James sings like Prince!), the emotion seemed somehow programed into the performance, as if a connection with the audience could be dialed in with something as simple as a volume knob on the engineer's console. So while loud, there was sometimes distance and sterility, even on some old favorites like "The Way That He Sings." Which was a shame because I love that song.
On the other hand, MMJ's performance of their other older material was exactly what I had hoped for--alive and immediate--even though it suffered a little human error (like occasional poor mixing of vocals or guitars). "One Big Holiday," for one, was ridiculously good, and "Run Thru" had the crowd completely. So there were definite high points on Monday night, but I will say that the last MMJ show I saw--at ACL Festival 2005--had, if less volume, then definitely more rawk. One consistency between the two shows, though, was Jim James's voice (from the I'm-singing-at-the-bottom-of-a-well school of rock, whose alumni also include Hope Sandoval), which soared.
Another plus from the show was that I didn't see any whored-up soccer moms dancing among the crowd. I did see a really tan dude with lots of hair product in an untucked, striped shirt with fancy jeans, though. And that made me a bit sad. But then I thought of him being a male hooker who was perhaps broke, and that made me feel better. I win again!