The Decemberists @ The Vogue -- 07/21/09

What a week this has been. The Decemberists show is the last of five concerts in six days! The Hazards of Love has been on of my favourite albums of the year so far, and I was really excited on how they were going to present the show.

The opening band for the night was Blind Pilot, also from Portland. A good choice in opening bands, as they had the same kind of indie-folk-pop sounds as The Decemberists. The set started out a bit slow, but ended up being really quite good. With wide array of instruments, including cello, harmonium (i think that's what it's called...), giant xylophone, banjo & mandolin, they had a rich and deep sound, and seemed to channel, at times, everyone from Damien Rice to Neko Case to The Shins, but adding their own originality and flair to each. They had a decent stage presence, even though the lead singer was a little soft spoken between songs, and there were a few times between songs they almost seemed a little awkward, but seeing as they're still a fairly new band, I am sure they'll get better in no time. I will definitely have to keep an eye ear out for them in the future.

And then, time for The Decemberists! Their set was split into two parts; for the first they came out and proceeded to play the entire Hazards of Love album front to back. If you know of the album (or, perhaps read my prior review?), there is a story spread across the songs, like a "folk-rock opera", and so it made perfect sense to play it in its entirety. Everything on the album was recreated near-perfectly, with a few variations or flourishes thrown in here and there and guest vocals Shara Worden and Becky Stark were there not only for their singing parts, but also playing backup instruments. It was, quite simply, an amazing sight and performance. The album is pretty epic on it's own, but seeing it live like this, the whole way through, was incredible and so very powerful. From the soaring vocals in The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All), the Worden's chilling vocals in The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid (her voice is, by the way, absolutely phenomenal live), the hectic everyone-drumming thumping of The Rake's Song, to the beautiful ending of Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned), it was superb. The only thing that was odd was that they used a prerecorded bit, from the album, for the kids voices in The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)... but that makes sense as I'm sure they don't want a childrens choir or something every night just for that one part.

When they finished the album, they took a short intermission, and then were back out to play the second half of their show; another hour or so! While the first half, the full album, was really tight and no chatter or anything, the second half was a lot looser and more fun and playful. Playing songs from their older albums (though, only one from The Crane Wife, which made me a sad panda), there was a fair amount of goofing around, too. At one point Colin Meloy led the whole theatre in a round, splitting the crowd into four groups, with each singing different parts. (wait, no, a round is everyone singing the same part at different times. What is it called when everyone is singing different parts at once?) and at another he had everyone sing a part, then slowly get quieter, and slowly getting louder. Think Twist & Shout. It makes no sense when I am trying to explain it, but it was pretty neat live.
At one point, near the end, Meloy started talking about the worst song he has ever written, prefacing it with a hilarious self-deprecating bit about how terrible and "douchy" it truly is, then playing a little bit of the song, Dracula's Daughter, before going launching into O Valencia!. They ended the set with a cover (what did I say yesterday? "[playing covers] is a practice I think all bands should partake in. Live covers are always fun.") of Crazy On You (Heart) with Worden & Stark coming back out to sing it. It was an insane cover and would have been an awesome way to end the show...
But wait! There's more! Coming out for the encore, Meloy did a song by himself, then was joined by half the band for The Mariner's Revenge Song, while the other half walked through the crowd with drums and cymbals. And then, half way through the song, they paused for Meloy to introduce a play in one act, with the band members in the crowd acting out the Norwegian discovery of Vancouver as Meloy narrated. It may sound silly, as I am not giving it nearly enough justice, but it was awesome and hilarious and just a fantastic way to close out the show.

I don't know if I can say it has been one of my favourite shows this year, but that is less a slight on the show, and more a testiment to how awesome other shows have been. This is right up there, at least in my top ten performances of the year so far. (To put that in perspective, I have seen just about 60 bands play so far this year, with about two dozen shows). Hopefully it is not another three years before they are back in town.