By SEAN DALY
Times Pop Music Critic
Louisville psycho-rock crew My Morning Jacket is famous for shaggy, anything-goes gigs. But business will be unusual Thursday when the Kentucky scruffs light up the Americanarama Festival at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre.
"If we had our druthers, we'd play a 13-hour show," laughs awesomely hirsute MMJ drummer Patrick Hallahan, chatting with me on the phone. "But we have to make way for Mr. Dylan."
MMJ will share a downright epic summer bill not just with Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, but with Chicago iconoclasts Wilco as well. The inspired fest commences at 5:30 p.m.; how they'll fit everyone in is another story.
"I figure we'll play between 60 and 90 minutes," says Hallahan, allowing that their performance will be abbreviated yet power-packed. "We're in a holding pattern now. We're just waiting for Bob Dylan to tell us what to do."
MMJ, a trippy cross between the Band, the Stones, maybe even a little Radiohead, has opened for Robert Zimmerman a handful of times over the years. And yet Hallahan has never met the Hibbing, Minn., legend, much less seen him hanging around backstage. Dylan isn't exactly a "hang around" sort of guy.
"He definitely keeps to himself, but so do we," Hallahan says. "Come to think of it, so does (Wilco's) Jeff Tweedy. I guess we're a pretty introverted group."
And if Hallahan ever ran into His Bobness, perhaps in the bathroom, what would he say?
"Dude," the drummer stops me. "You're a man. You know you don't talk in the bathroom. You don't break the man code."
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The 35-year-old Hallahan joined MMJ in 2002 — or the way the drummer figures it, right after his band last played Tampa Bay. Their return here has been a looong time coming, and for all the star power on Thursday's bill, it's MMJ that a lot of local fans are most jacked up to see.
"We're going to have a great time," Hallahan says about the one-of-a-kind festival. "Who doesn't want to measure themselves against their heroes?"
The laid-back Hallahan doesn't toss around "hero" lightly. Dylan gets the tag, but that's about it. When I call MMJ frontman Jim James a "visionary" — which he is — Hallahan stops me short again with a chuckle. He's heard enough. The air is getting thick.
"Man, you have to understand it's hard for me to think of Jim as a visionary 'cause we've been friends for years. I don't see him in the same way you do. We complete each other's sentences."
Nevertheless, being a drummer in MMJ is a challenge. James (who sings not unlike Dylan during his Nashville Skyline phase) is capable of switching gears — rock, folk, soul, blues, gospel metal, you name it — within the confines of the same song. Just listen to MMJ's last album, 2011's Circuital, which ranges from the alt-country shuffle of the title track to the trippy '60s groove of First Light to the strutting glam lark Holdin on to Black Metal.
"It's a super-invigorating atmosphere," he says. "It inspires beautiful moments but frustrating moments as well. I'll resort to a sports analogy: If you stay on the balls of your feet, you can move in any direction any time."
James is a freethinker and a perfectionist; Hallahan is the best pal who doesn't take any guff. BFFs or not, there must be tense moments between the two, right? "Playing music with your best friend is a dream come true." He laughs: "We're pretty much married at this point."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.