Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Live review: The Decemberists

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2009 at 12:53 PM

The Decemberists

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

June 4, 2009

The Deal: The Decemberists played Raleigh Memorial Auditorium with openers Blind Pilot.

The Good: Despite being a rather obsessed and decidedly uncool fan of The Decemberists, this was my first time seeing them live. As the soundtrack to my graduate school experience, my expectations for this show, above all others, were high. With their self-described nerd folk rock, I can think of no better band to resonate with someone who has spent years analyzing literary tropes and writing fiction. As I entered the theater, I noticed there were some similarities amongst the attendees; we all looked like we belonged to English departments. But don’t let the pale skin, dark glasses and manners fool you; we can rock, too.

The Decemberists performed its latest album, The Hazards of Love, a folk-rock opera concept, in its entirety before returning for a second set of older material. Having listened to countless live shows, I expected to hear the stage banter of the lively front man, Colin Meloy, but the first hour went by with an intense concentration I hadn’t expected. Let there be no doubt that this album is meant to be performed; like Shakespeare, it can only be fully realized on the stage. I liked it before, but it will be in heavier rotation now that I’ve seen it live.

True to British folklore, it is teeming with love and death, a fawn and an evil faerie queen. Guest vocalists, Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond joined them on the album and on tour. Stark voices William’s love interest, Margaret; she fluttered across the stage in her flowing Stevie Nicks-esque garb, clearly the embodiment of innocence in “Isn’t It A Lovely Night.” Worden, in contrast, belted out the part of the evil queen in true Grace Slick fashion leaving the audience breathless and addicted.

“The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” was one of the most memorable songs from the first set; from Jenny Conlee’s haunting work on the organ to the slithering crescendo when Worden’s vocals collided with Chris Funk’s surprisingly heavy riffs, the audience was hypnotized. “The Rake’s Song,” the album’s unlikely first single about a widower who murders his “three little pests,” was another high point when five of the seven people on stage beat the hell out of their drums and sang the chorus in unison. It was creepy, loud and energetic.

After the intermission, the dynamic changed dramatically. Meloy urged the fans at the front to get rid of the chairs; the crowd, suddenly energized, passed chairs overhead, and moved en masse toward the stage. It seemed the play was over, and it was time for the rock show. “The Chimbley Sweep” went on for 10 minutes, complete with dueling guitars, first between Meloy and Funk, then between two kids pulled from the audience.

Meloy was all over the stage, even in true rock star fashion, falling to the stage with his guitar in hand at times, dancing with a pretty blonde he pulled on stage, and diving into the crowd. I didn’t expect this considering they started the night in formal attire. The evening was quite a journey and even included a cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You” which electrified the audience. It made me wish Worden would stay with the band; at the very least, I’ll be checking out My Brightest Diamond.

The Bad: Though there is little to complain about, there were times when, whether by mere contrast with the power of Worden’s vocals or by sound or technical issues, Stark’s vocals were lost. In addition, while I enjoyed Blind Pilot, their performance was mellow and somewhat forgettable in comparison.

The Verdict: To quote what Meloy told Paste, “It’s intended to be pretty kinda nerdy. But sometimes nerds make the best hard rock.”

Set One (The Hazards of Love):


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 Hazards Of Love 2 (Wager All)

The Queen's Approach

Isn't It A Lovely Night

The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid

An Interlude

The Rake's Song

The Abduction Of Margaret

The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing

Annan Water

Margaret In Captivity

The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!)

The Wanting Comes In Waves (Reprise)

The Hazards Of Love 4 (The Drowned)

Set Two:

Leslie Anne Levine

The Bachelor and the Bride

We Both Go Down Together


Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)

The Chimbley Sweep

Dracula's Daughter

O Valencia!

Crazy on You (Heart cover)


Eli, the Barrow Boy

Sons & Daughters


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