By Team Backbeat
By Amber Taufen
By Jon Solomon
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For the most part, My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster still enjoys touring -- but he's got a much better grasp of its negatives than he did before joining the notoriously nomadic band in 2004. "I always think about The Last Waltz, where Robbie Robertson was like, 'The road's an impossible way of life,'" he notes. "I've seen that movie a zillion times, and when I first saw it, I was like, 'Yeah, right,' because that's what I wanted to be doing, you know? But after doing it for a couple of years, you start to understand."
A Cleveland native, Koster moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical goals, and at first he didn't venture far beyond the metro area. Although he played in a slew of L.A. ensembles ("I was in a Texas blues band, a Brazilian jazz-groove group, and I had a duo gig with a singer-songwriter," he recalls), none of them regularly left town. And while he subsequently got the chance to collaborate with former David Bowie sideman Mike Garson, that job didn't require travel, either; the two of them worked at Yamaha on the Disklavier, the company's high-tech variation on a player piano.
Koster's situation changed when My Morning Jacket had an opening for a keyboardist; previous ivory-tickler Danny Cash and guitarist Johnny Quaid reportedly left because of the rock-and-roll equivalent of sheer exhaustion. Koster and guitarist Carl Broemel soon made the final cut, and their timing was propitious. My Morning Jacket, led by vocalist/tunesmith Jim James, was beloved by the Bonnaroo crowd, but prior to the arrival of Koster and Broemel, some mainstream critics dismissed the combo as a typical gaggle of jammers. This perception changed with 2005's Z, a fully realized and relatively tight recording that benefited from excellent production (by John Leckie, who's worked with Radiohead) and the energy brought by the new members. Not that Koster and Broemel are mere studio pros; Okonokos, a two-CD live album issued last year, is a compelling document in which instrumentalists old and new mesh intuitively.
Granted, Jacket's chemistry comes at a cost. Koster has spent so much time living out of suitcases in recent years that he no longer has a place of his own. "I'm homeless right now," he concedes. "I'm crashing with two different friends in two different cities." For that reason, his first order of business after the end of the act's current tour (when James has finally scheduled a break) is "to pick a city to live in, and to try to get back into normalcy." Trouble is, "it doesn't really feel normal anymore. You don't know what to do with yourself when you're not getting ready for the next show."
The road may be an impossible way of life -- but the alternative has its drawbacks, too.
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