[ATTENDED: April 7, 2015] The Decemberists
I’ve liked The Decemberists for a pretty long time but never saw them live. I’m not really sure why I never had. Sarah has become a fan over the years as well, and they had moved to the top of her must see list. So when I saw they were playing at the beautiful and acoustically pristine Academy of Music (and it was so close to her birthday), I jumped on the chance to get tickets.
Somehow, the pre-order tickets from the band didn’t pan out, but I was able to get some pre-order tickets from the Kimmel Center and the seats were awesome. In a box just above floor level about fifteen or sixteen rows out. The box was very cool, as there were wooden chairs to sit on and there were all of six of us in this box. Probably one of the best views I’ve ever had a at a show.
The show started with Colin Meloy and his guitar. He played the opening song from their newest album, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” a meta- song that seems even more meta when he is actually addressing you. The song started slowly and then the two backing vocalists came on and sang along with him. Then some “statues” were lowered behind the stage. And as the rest of the band came out, the “quilted” cover of the album was lowered into place
I was sure they would play a set heavy with new songs, so I was surprised when they launched right into “The Infanta,” a rollicking song that really got the crowd going. And then Colin spoke and proved why he is such a good frontman. He was very funny, suggesting that we could sit or stand, it was up to us–the seats did look comfortable, after all. He advised the people in the way top (where we were seated for Neil Young) to not stand, because he was worried about their safety. And then he looked over to the side and saw the front box seats–set off from the rest and seemingly very VIP and informed us all that the Duke and Duchess of Pennsylvania were in the house tonight. On the other side of the stage in those same seats, he told us that the royalty from Pittsburgh could not make it.
So I’ve heard all the Decemberists albums and I’ve heard their live album and some other live recordings, but I was not prepared for how great they would sound live. I’m sure some of that was due to the acoustics of the room, I was delighted by how well every instrument could be heard–Colin’s acoustic guitar, Jenny Conlee’s various keyboards (her accordion solos were just as loud as anything else) and xylophone (which did get lost on the shuffle from time to time).
Chris Funk’s multitude of guitars and guitar-like instruments (including mandolin, I think, and lap steel guitar) were crisp and clean (with one occasional slip into feedback that might have been intentional). Nate Query switching between electric and upright (sometime bowed) bass was cool–especially watching him switch quickly in time for the next part of a song. And drummer John Moen (whose haircut is addressed in “The Singer Addresses His Audience” (“We’re aware that you cut your hair in a style that our drummer wore in a video”) really played a tremendous set of drums. He really uses toms and slightly unconventional drumming to accentuate these songs. But perhaps the best addition to the band was the two backup singers: Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor (jeez, between these guys and Alvvays, there was a ton of Irish on that stage). O’Connor sang and played guitar from time to time. And Hogan sang and added some percussion (she also did a lead track but more on that). The two had their own dance moves and percussion fun, but they added so much robustness to the songs. I never felt like Decemberists songs were lacking for punch, but the extra voices really punched them up.
Colin introduced “Calamity Song” by saying it was written as a plea to get his then 4 year old son to eat “Hank, eat your oatmeal” went the verse. But when he did the “ooh ooh” from the chorus, we knew it was “Calamity Song.” He then explained they’d be jumping into the much anticipated mining section of the show with “Rox in the Box.”
Then they went deep for “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” (which sounded rather different from the original as they tied it to a brief cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”). And then it was back to their new album with three songs “Make You Better,” “The Wrong Year” and “Carolina Low.” And while I like the new album, these songs sounded so much bigger and more powerful live.
Then the band went backwards through their catalog, playing a bunch of songs from Hazards of Love. Kelly Hogan took lead vocals on “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)” and she totally nailed it. She sounded amazing, and it really made the song shine. And then they played a down and dirty version of “The Rake’s Song.” Jenny and Nate came to the front and beat the holy hell out of tom toms as they sang along to the screamed “All Right!” The crowd gleefully sang along to, as he put it, the song “about infanticide.” He directed us to clap in certain patterns during the middle (and singled out the Duke and Duchess for a slower clap that Meloy made it seem that they couldn’t handle).
It felt like the show could end after that rousing bit, but there was plenty more, with The Crane Wife’s Parts 1 2 & 3. And then Colin put on a harmonica and it could only mean “Down By the Water” which was pretty fantastic.
They went deep again for “16 Military Wives” and a great sing along to the “la di da di da” section. Meloy had a lot of fun with that singing all manner of nonsense at the end–99 Luftbalons and a few other choice lines before launching in to an amazing version of “O Valencia!”
They closed the show with a song from the new album, “A Beginning Song” which was a low key but rousing end.
They came back for an encore and suggested that they were running out of time (gasp). So they played a beautiful and moving rendition (with just Colin, Nora and John) of “12/17/12” (where the title of the album comes from).
And then they ended with a full audience participation version of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” It was everything I’d hoped, with Jenny’s part being as creepy as on record (and gleefully acted out as well). Chris’s whale sign was hilarious and John was even away from the kit to play only a tom. And, spoiler alert… they were all swallowed by a whale. It was fantastic.
I feel like I have been using lot of superlatives about shows lately, but this one was utterly fantastic. From the band’s performances, to Colin’s stage banter, to the sound quality and theatrics, the show was just outstanding. They could have played a dozen other songs that I would have loved to hear and yet I wasn’t disappointed by any selections at all.
UPDATE: WXPN’s The Key has a review and many many videos from the show on this site.
Checking out setlist.com I see that they play different songs at different shows. Hmm, Hey Tim, they’re playing up by you in Vermont this summer….
Here’s the Setlist
- The Singer Addresses His Audience
- The Infanta
- Calamity Song
- Rox in the Box
- Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect
- Make You Better
- The Wrong Year
- Carolina Low
- The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
- A Bower Scene
- Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
- The Rake’s Song
- The Crane Wife 1 & 2
- The Crane Wife 3
- Down by the Water
- 16 Military Wives
- O Valencia!
- A Beginning Song
- The Mariner’s Revenge Song