The Decemberists Blew Me Away

We went to see The Decemberists last night at the Tabernacle. Todd and I are both big fans, and have been wearing their albums out around the house. I have listened to the latest album, Hazards of Love, so much in the car that Tiller goes around humming the melodies. That being said, Todd and I have both agreed that we don’t like the latest album as much as the others, so when he heard that they have been playing the album in its entirety during shows this tour, i was a little bummed. I was hoping to hear more songs from other albums.

But Hazards of Love is one of those big theatrical, concept albums, a story told through songs that blur one into the next, so that you don’t know where one song ends and the next starts, so it seemed logical that the best way to hear it live is to hear it in its entirety – It is definitely a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. Or whatever that saying is. . . there are two or three standout songs on it, but it is much more powerful as a folk tale album than as a bunch of singles. And who in our modern day of ITunes, and Shuffles and downloadable singles hasn’t missed the joy of listening to albums? I certainly lament the fall of the album as a work of art.

So, never having seen them before, but having them on my list of bands I really, really want to see, i was excited, but wondering how this whole album thing would go over.

OH MY GOD.

Best show i have seen in years. Natalie will surely argue me on this one, as she is a huge Pogues fan and thinks that show back in March was better. I loved the M. Ward show I saw in Chicago. But this, this show was beautiful, theatrical, sounded absolutely fucking awesome. It went on forever, and I actually wanted it to. Colin Meloy’s voice is like magic, weaving his beautiful stories in a way that somehow (and don’t ask me how) just don’t come off as hokey. I mean, this is some serious drama geek stuff here; they had on period costumes, for god’s sake, except the Queen, whose hair was just like Tiller’s, but black and who was wearing a magical silver-sequined dress. Their songs are actually like reading a good story: About men changing to animals and a fearsome and vengeful forest queen, maidens in distress, a rake boasting of murdering his own children, the crossing of a mighty river, and the lovers final rest in a watery grave. I just couldn’t believe that they could pull it off in a live show, but they did, and they did it perfectly.

The album rises to a climax in a few spots, and then brings you back down, then rises again, and those moments in a live setting were almost electric. The end of the song, “A Bower Scene,” for example, gets heavy with guitar, and I mean heavy. The sound of that guitar in the Tabernacle, with all these lit-rock nerds standing around banging their heads. . . well, I just wouldn’t have imagined it. And then they bring you back out of the sludge and you rest in their sweet and melancholy melodies. Then they bring you the Queen. Dear God, that woman (singer from My Brightest Diamond) was commanding. Not tall in stature, just average, but when the guitar goes heavy again, and she comes out to sing her part of “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid,” the crowd was completely in thrall to her deep and powerful voice. The stage almost seemed empty when she stepped back from the front.

But then Colin steps back up to do “The Rake’s Song.” This song is one of the harder ones that definitely stands on its own, but which I still don’t quite understand how it fits into the larger concept of the album. It doesn’t matter; The Rake is an unapologetic child murderer, bragging of his conquests over his own offspring, and his story thrills and chills.

“Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove; Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath. Isaiah fought, but was easily bested, burned his body for incurring my wrath.”

(Ironically, Tiller and Rollie love his song – I don’t know if they realize he is singing about killing his own children.)

And then the Queen comes back out for “The Queen’s Rebuke/ The Crossing” and just about rocks our faces off. Todd admitted that he felt a tear in his eye it was so good. The son crosses the river and saves Margaret and they both meet their death together.

Exeunt. They left the stage and the crowd knew they would be back out, but boy did that last a long time. Worth it though, when they came back out. They didn’t play a few songs that i would have loved to hear from other albums (“Leslie Anne Levine,” the poor ghost girl who falls for the dead Chimney Sweep. “The Crane Wife,” about a man saving a crane and it becoming his wife. “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” about a dead soldier and his pregnant lover back home. Or either of my other faves: “Oceanside”, a sensual little coaxing ocean love song, or “The Bandit Queen.” (She only has nine fingers, lives in a grotto, wears a turban, drinks bourbon and robs trains. I want to be her.) To hear “The Bandit Queen” would have made the show absolutely perfect.

They did play “July! July!” “Shankhill Butchers” (a crowd favorite), “16 Military Wives,” and another of my favorites, the melancholy “Raincoat Song.” I’m sure I forgot something here or there, but maybe Todd or Nat will have more to add. The final encore was a cover of the Heart song, “Crazy on You.” That’s one of those songs that you recognize almost immediately, and the crowd went wild, and the band killed it.

Great show. I am mad at myself for not seeing them before (Chastain with the ASO? I could kill myself for missing it.) I rarely say this about any band charging thirty bucks a ticket, but just the Queen’s songs alone were well worth the price of admission. Go see this great band. It made me giddy to be this excited about a live music experience. It’s been a long time.

After the show, Todd mentioned that he didn’t think that he had ever heard a band play a full album live before. I said that I had. Any of my loyal readers want to name the band, venue, and the two albums they played back to back? I know some of you were at the show I was thinking of. . . Nat, you don’t count, because you know the answer after discussing last night.

  8 comments for “The Decemberists Blew Me Away

  1. harris
    June 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Built to Spill – Perfect for Now On? I saw that tour last year, loved it.

  2. June 5, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Reese. . you saw Decemberists last year and loved? Or BTS? Now you got me thinking that BTS might have played that whole album last time I saw them. I can’t remember. That was not what I was thinking of. . . Will wait a while and see if anyone else replies.

    You need to give me the scoop on your housing situation. What happened?

  3. June 5, 2009 at 10:23 am

    I believe said band featured an encore that included “W-O-R-D Up”

  4. Nikki
    June 5, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Brian and I were just talking about this album on our last date and how we can’t seem to get into it. I’ll have to give it another listen.

  5. Harris
    June 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    We saw Built To Spill last year when they were doing Perfect From Now On – which i just think is a masterpiece. They were touring with Dinosaur Jr, who I love, but who now reminds me of an athlete way past their prime. I wish they’d hang it up.

    We saw Decmeberists a few years back on the Piquaresque (sp) tour. Very theatrical as well. We were way up on the balcony and it just didnt blow me away. I enjoyed it, but I wish I’d been closer to the action.

    The scoop on the housing situation? Well, I’m in the process of buying an apt in Brooklyn. It hasnt happened yet – no loan, no closing date, no movers, etc., but we’re working towards it. Hopefully late June early/mid July if all goes well.

  6. June 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Jason B is correct.

  7. June 5, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Nikki – Yes, Todd and I also had a hard time with it, but it has grown on me, and live, it was absolutely amazing.

    Reese – Agreed on D. Jr. Nothing v. good after Green Mind anyway. Also saw them most recent tour and while Lou still seems relevant, J. is frighteningly old looking. Am extremely jealous of seeing BTS play entire album.

    Keep me posted on the new address. I might want to abandon my husband and kids and show up on your doorstep. Hi, to Anne – tell her to keep up the blog! (Miss Shiftyeye, really. Still. )

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