Posted in music | pictures on January 26, 2011

photos by Chris Gersbeck, words by Rachel Kowal

Decemberists

Playing before The Decemberists is no easy task, but Merge duo Wye Oak was up for the challenge.

"Good evening. We're a couple of kids from Baltimore, Maryland... hot dog!" declared vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner with cool excitement. In light of Wasner's endearing banter and sweet demeanor, the duo's rocking sound is a nice contrast. This is not the stuff of wispy, sugar-coated singer-songwriters. Wasner's voice is surprisingly full bodied, and for two people, there's a lot going on musically. Andy Stack's ability to manage both the keyboard and the drums simultaneously is no small feat.

Wye Oak showcased some new material, including a selection of songs from their upcoming album, which drops on 3/8. "I wrote this song in a sweaty attic in Baltimore," Jenn said at one point. "Now I get to play it in a Broadway theatre. Life is strange."

Following Wye Oak's brief set (and nearly the entirety of a Mumford and Sons album courtesy of the sound guy), the lights dimmed, and a mysterious but congenial disembodied voice boomed through the darkness. "Good evening. Welcome to the show." No, it wasn't The Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy. It was a scripted pre-recorded intro of sorts, allegedly from Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland. Robo-Adams led the crowd in introductions and then began to set the scene for what promised to be a picturesque evening. "I'd like you to imagine you're standing on a windswept coastal rainforest somewhere in the deep Pacific northwest.'" Cue the chirping birds and flowing water.

"OK here we go," said Meloy as the band readied to play. "Night number two." Befitting the strange introduction, the backdrop of the stage was decorated with the silhouettes of pine trees against the sky - much like the artwork on the cover of the band's latest album which just hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

For Monday night's show (night 1 or 3), the band had kicked off their set with a number of new songs, but at last night's show, they began with a ten-plus minute song from deep within their discography: "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade."

It's hard to believe that nearly 9 years have passed since The Decemberists released Castaways and Cutouts. After the direction the band assumed for their last two albums, I was eager to hear what their latest would be like, and I didn't have to wait long.

"We have a new record out called The King is Dead, and we're going to play some songs off of that... among other things," Meloy stated after the chords of the first song had died out. "We have a long night together." What followed was a cascade of new songs, interrupted only briefly for the crowd-pleasing ballad "Red Right Ankle."

With The King is Dead, The Decemberists seem to have exchanged the slowly unfolding and meandering prog rock featured on their recent few albums, and turned back to tight songwriting in the more conventional 3-5 minute format. The new material is less frenzied and overblown than say, nearly anything on Hazards of Love. Absent are long-winded instrumental interludes and evidence of roll playing, strange characters, and period pieces. The King is Dead is far more immediate, which is good, considering just how much of the band's set was lifted from the album (only two of the new songs went unplayed). Much of the material may have been new, but it also felt somehow familiar - like a throwback to some of the band's earlier work. Fiddle player and vocalist Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) was a pleasant addition to the mix - especially as the widow in "The Chimbley Sweep."

Of course, we still got a taste of that gothic storybook rock. "Alright, we're going to go down the rabbit hole here a little," Meloy said by way of introducing the Crane Wife suite.

Spirits were high throughout the evening. Meloy and the band succeeded in engaging the audience with their dramatic antics and candid banter. At one point, Meloy turned the mic on the audience and pitted the orchestra against the balcony for what turned into an impressively compliant and enthusiastic sing-a-long for the 'la-di-da's' of "16 Military Wives."

The Decemberists followed up their regular set with quite an energetic and theatrical first encore. "The Chimbley Sweep" devolved into a play-off - Colin Meloy vs. Chris Funk. Then as the song continued, both men handed off their guitars to a random audience member, and Meloy proceeded to take a walk around the room, climbing over chairs and steadying himself by reaching out and grasping shoulders and heads as he made his way through the crowd. For the accordion-laden shanty "The Mariner's Revenge Song," the audience assumed an important role. At Funk's hand signal (no more prop whale), the whole room broke out in screams and laments as if being swallowed by a whale. Back onstage, the band fell to the ground and began to writhe around the floor. From their new position, they played with increased fervor until the song eventually spun out of control and ended.

Succumbing to the ravenous applause, The Decemberists concluded the evening with a brief second encore, this time favoring a song from their new album, "June Hymn."

After comparing the setlists from the last two nights, it definitely looks like the band is attempting to mix things up. I only wonder what they'll play to cap off their three-night run in the city tonight (1/26).

More pictures from last night (though none of Wye Oak unfortunately), the setlist and all of their upcoming tour dates below...

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Decemberists setlist - 1/25/2011
California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade
Down by the Water
Rox in the Box
Calamity Song
Red Right Ankle
January Hymn
Don't Carry It All
All Arise!
Won't Want for Love
The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Crane Wife 3
The Infanta
16 Military Wives
This is Why We Fight

First Encore
The Chimbley Sweep
The Mariner's Revenge Song

Second Encore
June Hymn

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The Decemberists - 2011 Tour Dates
January 26, Beacon Theatre, New York, NY* SOLD OUT
January 28, House of Blues, Boston, MA* SOLD OUT
January 29, House of Blues, Boston, MA* SOLD OUT
January 31, Olympia De Montreal, Montreal, Canada*
February 1, Sound Academy, Toronto, Canada*
February 2, Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI*
February 4, Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL* SOLD OUT
February 5, Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, WI# SOLD OUT
February 6, State Theatre, Minneapolis, MN# SOLD OUT
February 7, Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, MO#
February 9, Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO#
February 10, Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO# SOLD OUT
February 12, The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA# SOLD OUT
February 13, House of Blues-San Diego, San Diego, CA# SOLD OUT
February 14, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA# SOLD OUT
February 18, Paramount Ballroom, Seattle, WA#
February 19, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR# SOLD OUT
March 4, Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland
March 5, ABC, Glasgow, UK
March 7, Birmingham Institute, Birmingham, UK
March 8, Bristol Academy, Bristol, UK
March 10, Manchester Academy, Manchester, UK
March 11, Leeds Academy, Leeds, UK
March 12, De la Warr Pavillion, Bexhill, UK
March 13, Trix, Antwerp, Belgium
March 14, Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands
March 16, Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK

* with Wye Oak
# with Mountain Man

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Comments (36)

night two was better than night 1. hopefully this snow doesnt ruin tonight's show

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 1:59 PM

great venue. great show.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:03 PM

i saw wye oak, having never heard their music, about a year ago because friends were going to the show. they are fucking great live. her guitar tone is awesome. its not some bullshit cutesy indie thing.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:03 PM

last night was excellent. Red Right Ankle was lovely, and the Meloy's slip up on the lyrics was kinda funny. seemed like the crowd was more enthused from what i heard about night number one. also - The Crane Wives 1-3 were flawless.

Posted by j.noble | January 26, 2011 2:08 PM

I don't know a single person who likes the Decemberists.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:12 PM

snow can't slow us down!

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:12 PM

Awesome stuff last night. Can't wait for tonight! The King Is Dead tracks are being repeated, but they didn't repeat ANY of the older stuff from night 1 to night 2, which I think is just swell. Hoping that trend continues tonight.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:12 PM

Shit, way better setlist than night 1. He's seems content with June Hymn as a closer now. It's an ok song, but far from their best. Maybe throw it in as the first song of an encore...but it's definitely not a closer. Chimbley, Mariners...June Hymn? It's like getting interrupted mid-coitus.

Posted by TheSloot | January 26, 2011 2:14 PM

guy's a fucking dork.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:26 PM

The Sloot: I see what you're saying, but it actually worked quite well, I thought. Once the Mariner's energy was done, it was done, time to slow down.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:31 PM

#1, now you KNOW they can't be good.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:38 PM

Anon 2:12 - That's because you have no friends.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 2:41 PM

@2:31-I wasn't there last night, but I do see your point. I'm speaking more based on the first show. If they play Chimbley and Mariners, I guess anything else is just a bonus. The first night with Island and June Hymn as the only encore was pretty crappy. After a fairly mellow show you'd expect them to pull something out for the encore. The Island is great but it doesn't allow for the crowd to get into it as much as some of their other songs. They play it the same way it was recorded.

Posted by TheSloot | January 26, 2011 3:08 PM

Seems like January Hymn would be more appropriate. Since, ya know, It's January and it's snowing and stuff.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 3:08 PM

that Decemberists is the #1 album in the country makes me incredibly sad. Precious, annoying forgettable.
Congrats i guess.. but fuck, that's just a shame that this is the best music can do this week?

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 3:09 PM

whoa... people are actually commenting on music here.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 3:10 PM

Very nice setlist. Hoping for something good tonight.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 3:13 PM

This review certainly makes the show seem fun.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 3:33 PM

@3:09-The Decemberists being number one makes you sad? I wish you would clarify. I mean, you may not personally like them...but I don't see why an indie band who's paid their dues for 10 years doesn't deserve some success. I suppose you're fine with Taylor Swift, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Katy Parry, Justin Bieber...but you're upset that people are buying Decemberists albums?

Posted by TheSloot | January 26, 2011 4:18 PM

actually... #1 makes me sad nearly every week, but I guess I'm constantly surprised people like this band.

Posted by 3:09 | January 26, 2011 4:29 PM

why are you obsessed with the billboard charts? who gives a rats ass how many records a band sells

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 4:33 PM

#1 in our hearts!

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 4:39 PM

colin is a great front man... funny guy... his voice is magic... power packed show... great new album, with a bullet... straight to number one!

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 4:41 PM

Because the prevailing sentiment - and it is a purely sentimental sentiment - is "See? People really like indie rock! One of our team finally made it! We made it, man!" This is why so many people like The Decemberists: on the slimmest of songwriting threads hangs a universe of deep and abiding need. The need to feel liked, the need to fit in, the need to feel independent - never mind the fact that this band stands for nothing and makes no forward strides in the artform in any way. The Decemberists are an ice floe - and it's not even a cool ice floe with a polar bear or Frankenstein. It's an amorphous patch of colorless cold, and it's slowly melting into absolute and total emptiness.

Posted by Crosseyed Sniper | January 26, 2011 4:41 PM

crosseyed sniper = jared lee loughner

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 4:44 PM

Crosseyed Sniper is very Colin Meloyesque in his wisdom.

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 4:50 PM

if you don't like the decemberists, think they're lame, hate that they're #1 - then why are you even reading this page?

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 5:17 PM

Shit, you're right. Why indeed?

Posted by 3:09 | January 26, 2011 5:56 PM

Who said that every band has to stand for something? I'd rather listen to a band with great catchy songs who put on a great live show than a band with some profound message that was shitty. The Decemberists are a fun band and make music they enjoy. I don't think they've ever pretended to be anything that they're not.

Posted by TheSloot | January 26, 2011 6:39 PM

White people love the Decemberists!

Posted by Anonymous | January 26, 2011 8:21 PM

"Who said that every band has to stand for something? I'd rather listen to a band with great catchy songs who put on a great live show than a band with some profound message that was shitty. The Decemberists are a fun band and make music they enjoy. I don't think they've ever pretended to be anything that they're not."

This is the attitude that sums up what's 100% wrong with independent music today.

Rather than "stand for something," substitute "mean something." No longer simply clever questions for Paris Hilton - more bands like The Decemberists should be made to answer, "Why am I famous?," "What have I done?" and "What am I for?"

Posted by Crosseyed Sniper | January 26, 2011 8:34 PM

Dig the acoustic guitar snippet of "Seven Chinese Brothers" during the instrumental bridge after "California One."

Posted by Russell | January 26, 2011 11:21 PM

Sniper-I am really not following your logic here. You're comparing a band that's produced 4 at least semi-successful albums to socialites who are famous for being party girls? Not to mention they have been heavily touring for the past 10 years. I'm not seeing your analogy at all. I'm pretty sure they are "famous" for growing a fan base with well-written songs and great live shows. Again, no one is forcing these people down anyone's throat. It's not like they get much radio play. I don't think the Decemberists "sum up" anything other than musicians who enjoy what they do, and are trying to make a living out of it. It's not hard to figure out that most people in bands are not in it because they are so devoted to their craft and need to spread the message of what they "stand for." I don't know what world you live in, but 99% of most bands(of any genre/era)don't do it for this reason. Everyone's full of shit...whether they're trying to get girls, or fame, or make some cash, it's usually not for the "right" reasons. Stop drinking the kool-aid.

Posted by TheSloot | January 26, 2011 11:57 PM

here comes the backlash. they have a #1 record, that is great, testament to 10 years of hard work and great music. kudos to them, screw the haters, it's so predictable, EVERY indie band that starts small and gets a little bit of success suddenly sucks. SO boring! If you don't like the Decemberists, cool, to each their own, but i am stoked that an intelligent band making very interesting music has the #1 record in the country.

Posted by Anonymous | January 27, 2011 4:56 PM

One only need read his lyrics sans music, or the awful book he wrote about the replacements to imagine what kind of self-impressed knob he must be.

The replacements would probably have taken a leak on a stack of Decemberists records if they co-existed.

Posted by Anonymous | January 27, 2011 9:43 PM

sweet ^^ cool thank you man

Posted by انمي | February 28, 2011 9:58 PM

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