Thursday, November 16, 2006

“Hear all the bombs, they fade away…”

One fear that I had about writing this blog was that I would not write often enough, especially after I go see a show. I try my best to do at least one entry a week. I’m trying my best people. I really am. But in the meantime feel free to engage me in music conversation at any time.

On Friday, Nov. 3rd I was blessed to see The Decemberists for the second time in my life, and certainly not my last. Once again they did not disappoint. My friend Juliet from DC made it up for the show and my friend Sam (no longer by default) who came with me to the Sufjan show also went with us. The Decemberists were playing at Hammerstein Ballroom, the same place the Flaming Lips played. For this show we had general admission floor seats, well actually space. We stood the whole time. This for me is problematic. Whenever I am in a situation like this I am always trying to make my way to a better spot. Most often because someone taller chooses to stand in front of me. I could rant about this all day, but I won’t. I’ll save it for another blog.

Anyhoo…The Decemberists are one of the most brilliant bands out there today. They hail from Portland, Oregon and are named after the Russian Decembrist revolt. They play literary alt-rock. But I will get more into them in a moment. First the opening act….

So after Juliet, Sam and I found what we thought was a good spot, a few moments later the opening act, Alasdair Roberts came onto the stage with his accompanying musicians. He is a Scottish folk musician, and his music sounded very traditional. His voice was soft and soothing and was patient with the crowd, who often times spoke louder than he sang. I can’t really say that I was ready to go buy his album after watching him perform, but if you are into Damien Rice or into traditional-folky sounding music than you might like him. I did like his orange turtleneck though.
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When Alasdair left the stage the excitement for The Decemberists began. Instead of playing a random mix of music before they got on stage they played the children’s story Peter and the Wolf, the one that reminds me of being 8. If you heard it, I’m sure you would know it too. Well the last time I saw them perform they did this as well. It must be their thing. So after waiting and waiting and waiting, finally the show began. A recording then started, and the gentleman speaking told the crowd to introduce themselves to each other and share an interesting fact to their neighbor. Then the voice asked us to mind our manners and went on to introduce the band. The crowd went wild.

They played a great set covering songs from all four of their albums, focusing mainly on their new one, The Crane Wife. The stage set had paper lanterns and a backdrop similar to the album art. With certain songs Colin Meloy (lead singer, songwriter, guitar) had the crowd participate.
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During one song he wanted the crowd to form a circle so there could be a dance off. During “16 Military Wives” (their political song) Colin had the crowd divide into two sides and had a singing contest with the part of the song that goes, “La de da de da de-dadedade-da.”

This show the crowd actually did move and sing along. It was great. Juliet and I got really into it by doing interpretive moves to the song lyrics. Our favorite was during “The Engine Driver” when we got to sing and make a gesture for “There are powerlines in our bloodlines…”

At one point Colin had us do a vocal warm up so we wouldn’t harm our vocal cords.

Certain songs of course had the crowd really singing. When they performed “Song for Myla Goldberg,” the crowd went nuts as we sang from the top of our lungs, “I know New York I need New York, I know I need unique New York…” Something about singing about the city you are in. They get the same reaction in DC when they play “the Bagman’s Gambit.”
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As the show was coming to an end they ended their set with “Sons and Daughters,” where Colin said that this was the song that would heal the riff from “16 Military Wives.” That this would bring us all together. The little group of friends that we had made in our area put our arms on each others’ shoulders and swayed back and forth as we sang along. As they left the stage the applause and cheers were thunderous. We longed for the encore.

Colin came out solo and sang one of my all time favorite songs, “Red Right Ankle.” Then as he started the next song, “A Cautionary Song” (the only Decemberists song I absolutely never listen to—pay attention to the lyrics, I just can’t listen to it, the imagery is too strong…even though the music is catchy), members of the band were going through the crowd with their instruments like they were in a parade.
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Then at one point in the song they stopped in the crowd and did a reenactment of a dramatic battle.
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Afterwards the members of the band made their way back to the stage. They closed the show with another one of my favorite songs, “I Was Meant for the Stage.”

Once again The Decemberists did not disappoint. They were lively, engaging, and allowed the crowd to enjoy themselves. Colin also mentioned that his mother was in the audience, which must have been a nice feeling as a parent to see your child bring genuine happiness to a group of people. I know I speak a lot about Colin, but often times the lead singer is the one who speaks the most. Maybe because they are the ones who deal with the words, but the other band members had just as much of a presence: Chris Funk with his bear-like stature holding his guitar, Nate Query playing his upright bass, John Moen behind the drums, and of course Jenny Conlee behind the organ or rocking out on her accordion. On this tour Lisa Molinaro joined the band to offer her vocals and viola.

I highly, highly, highly suggest checking out The Decemberists when they come to your town. Even if they don’t come to your town, drive, fly, take a train, or do whatever it takes to see them. They are worth it!


P.S. To get an idea of the show you can listen to their entire performance (when they were in DC a few days before NYC) online:
The set list was pretty much the same.

A snippet of “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”

One of the greatest videos ever made, “16 Military Wives”

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