Saturday, November 25, 2006

Live: The Decemberists

The Decemberists
10/29/06 at 9:30 Club

(Flickr user vassego)

In Ten Words Of Four Letters Or Fewer
It is the best show I have ever been to.

In A Great Many Words
It's official. Between my review of The Crane Wife, and my thoughts concerning this concert, I am no longer capable of discussing The Decemberists objectively. They inspire a serious and cult-like love amongst their fans, and I've chugged enough Kool-Aid to hydrate me into 2008. You have my permission to start taking grains of salt now.

But don't take too many. The passion I feel about this show in particular is legitimate. Sure, it's easy to just yell and scream "best sh0w evarrrr" or whatever in the immediate wake of a concert. You're running on adrenaline, it's immediate in your thoughts, and so forth. Knowing this, I gave it a couple weeks to marinate in my mind before posting. I've even been to a couple shows since, just to add some controls into the equation. I write this all in cold blood.

It's still the best show I've ever been to.

For a band to be so beloved (by me) going into a concert, and still come out exceeding my high expectations, is a real achievement. It was a perfect concert. Totally perfect.

What's funny is that you would never expect The Decemberists to be a "bring the house down" kind of band. The words used to describe their recorded work are along the lines of "quaint," "precious," "chamber pop," "literary," "anachronistic" and such. Not "knock your socks off your ass." And yet that's exactly what they did. I got rocked. Every song was slammed out of the park, hard as could be, every ounce of juice squeezed out as the song sailed over the fence. I can't help but feel that I saw the band at the peak of its powers.

As they did on The Crane Wife, the band proves itself to be an agile, highly-skilled unit. The songs were impressively faithful to their recorded versions, despite a wealth of strange instrumentation (bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, others). And they had energy to burn. Much of the credit for that belongs to drummer John Moen. I never paid much mind to his drumming on the albums, but in person he really got my attention. He commanded the band, driving and fueling its grooves, as any great drummer should. I'm glad I finally noticed his work, because it deserves praise.

Perhaps unsurprising was the quality of the band's stage presence. Beyond simply appearing to have a good time, which goes a long way, they executed a number of crowd-pleasing, spontaneous-seeming "bits." Band members went into the audience and acted out scenes of Colin's choosing. Colin grabbed cameras and cell phones from the audience, futzing around with them during extended grooves. Nothing revolutionary, nor even particularly original in retrospect, but definitely fun. After all, even contrived theatrics can be made to feel genuine and special. The bottom line is that crowds love Colin Meloy, Rock Star, and he convinced us that everyone on stage was having as much fun as we were in the pit.

As if tunes and tomfoolery wouldn't have been enough, I have to say it was also the most pleasant concert-going experience of my lifetime. Nobody forcing their way forward by shoving people out of their way... nobody puffing their smoke away from their own face and into mine... nobody dancing into me with their elbows... not so much as a whiff of douchebaggery all night long. Having your personal space respected in its entirety for nigh on four hours at a sold-out rock show is a once-in-a-lifetime event; as such, I am highly appreciative. I cite three main factors:

1) The ban on smoking, by band request (THANK YOU)
2) My ears weren't ringing, even a little bit, on my way home
3) The laid-back, respectful, and all-around considerate demeanor of the average Decemberists fan

So not only did I get to see one of my favorite bands, playing what will likely be their best music, but the 9:30 Club just so happened to be a jerk-free zone for the entire night. I couldn't have been any happier.

Other fun thoughts:

* When I went inside, around 8:00, the balcony was full and the floor was about half-full. And the area around the bar was totally unattended. It was bizarre. My first instinct was that they were prevented from selling beer on Sunday or something. I actually asked the bartender if he was serving beer or not. (That question got quite a look.) I guess none of the early arrivals wanted to lose their place in the crowd by having a drink, but I was able to leave and return to my spot without incident. Just weird.

* If you're familiar with Castaways and Cutouts, the band's first full-length, you know the miserable story of poor, unfortunate, prematurely dry-ravine-birthed Leslie Anne Levine. During the encore, Colin held up a baby doll with "Leslie Anne Levine" written on it, and tossed it into the crowd. (The guy right next to me caught it, and gave to his girlfriend. Can't argue with that.) But that's exactly the kind of humor you don't expect right away from a guy who makes his living telling gut-wrenching tragedies. And it's a cute way to nod to the older material without having to actually perform it.

Crane Wife 3
The Island
We Both Go Down Together
The Engine Driver
Yankee Bayonet
Perfect Crime #2
Shankill Butchers
Song for Myla Goldberg
O, Valencia!
July, July!
16 Military Wives
Crane Wife 1 & 2
Sons and Daughters

Culling of the Fold
Legionnaire’s Lament
A Cautionary Song

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