An encore can push a room further into a frenzy or act as a rejuvenating postscript.
My Morning Jacket did the latter at the grand reopening of the Wilma Theatre, in a fashion that showed off best the new sound system's visceral dynamics.
It was with "Wordless Chorus," a song from the Southern psychedelic rock band's 2005 album "Z."
It begins with a sub-bass pulse, soon joined by lead singer Jim James' highly pitched vocals and a muted guitar line in the upper register.
The contrast was clear and palatable standing under the balcony, where sound was once the most saturated in reverb at the Wilma, built as an opera house in the 1920s.
By the song's end, true to its title, James belted wordless vocals over a full arrangement with a clarity that carried through the room with dramatic intensity.
Beyond the many improvements at the new Wilma, the line-array speakers from L-Acoustics is the change that'll you'll savor the most.
The bass, courtesy of the subwoofers arranged on the hardwood floor in front of the stage, was deeper than anything before at the venue. It traveled up to your knees, and your chest and larynx. If you stood underneath the speakers hanging from the ceiling on either side of the stage, the sound could move your hair when the band kicked into high gear.
Guitar chords had a physical edge to them. During ballads, the system could project subtle exchanges like light cymbal work and finger-picked acoustic guitar.
A song like "Believe" had even wider dynamics than it does on the studio recording – the quiet sections were crisp and made for even more drama when they hit the ascending chorus at full volume.
It was the maiden voyage for the Wilma sound staff, who worked out the balance over the course of the show. My Morning Jacket has their share of surprises as well – they can play updated Southern boogie rock, but their singer walked onstage with a drum machine strapped to his chest, and visibly savored the crowds' reaction when he queued up a bass hit.
The capacity for bass was likely a boon to fans of electronic act Big Gigantic, who played on Tuesday night.
But My Morning Jacket is a world-traveling rock act that normally plays larger venues, and they pushed the sound hard. It shouldn't worry fans of subtler, less raucous acts on the venue's schedule, like singer-songwriter Patty Griffin (Oct. 30) or guitarist Richard Thompson (Nov. 16).
In the balcony, the sound was still a more physical presence than with the previous system.
The new fixed seats are comfortable, with good sight lines, even for a shorter person, and it was naturally the more relaxed half of the venue, even with people occasionally standing and dancing.
Down on the floor, the raised stage made a noticeable difference in sight lines for short people, accustomed as we are to moving around till we can see.
That's also thanks to the tiers, separated by railings, that keep a packed floor in order.
Even with 1,400 people in the building, the new air system kept things remarkably cool throughout the concert – even at the end when Wilma shows were once notoriously muggy with the smell of a thousand sweaty concert-goers.
True to his word, owner Nick Checota and his staff provided the same fast service as they do at his other venue, the Top Hat. I never waited more than a few minutes for a drink. Even the line to get inside at the beginning of the night, moved quickly, despite stretching to the front of El Cazador.
And while you're waiting for a drink, you can still clearly see the stage thanks to the removal of the wall separating the lobby and the theater.
Speaking of lines, the expanded bathrooms meant that I never waited.
Andy Dunnigan, lead singer of the Lil' Smokies, played the theater's soft opening last Friday, and said "the onstage sound sounds incredible. They have great monitors in there," he said.
"It sounds fantastic in there. It wasn't too big of a facelift. It wasn't too in your face. It was a really mature move to do, just like with the Top Hat," he said. "They have the integrity and the mystique and the aura that was previously there, which I think is really important for the Wilma."
The Wilma, he pointed out, has a presence outside of Missoula as well.
It was already the best venue in the city for a concert – now it's even better.