The Decemberists: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

So, have you heard this new Decemberists record, "The Hazards of Love"? Dude. It's an hour-long fantasy rock opera about a young squire who once suffered a vexing enchantment by a vengeful sprite of the wood, and whose lady faire -- hey, where are you going? Come back! It's good! Really!

You probably have some idea by now whether you're susceptible to the Decemberists' fecund marriage of Elizabethan verbiage, pastoral balladry and proggy 70s riffs. Five full albums and at least one Stephen Colbert-sponsored "Countdown to Guitarmageddon" into its run, the Portland quintet is now a known quantity. But this is one of those bands you have to see live before you can write them off. Pretentious and twee, sayeth thou? Self-deprecating and gifted with chops wondrous awesome, sayeth we.

At Merriweather last night, Decemberist-in-Chief Colin Meloy led his Beowulf-pack through "The Hazards of Love" in its sequential entirety, an unbroken hour-long narrative suite.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Gutsy, that, but the crowd was with him. As in all rock operas, the dynamic shifts and crunchy power chords count for more than the Tolkeinesque storyline here, and those big, bombastic changes kept the show accessible. After all, Meloy designed these pieces to lodge in your mind after a single exposure, like the songs for a stage musical. And key motifs recur several times.

Bespectacled and mutton-chopped, Meloy remained "in character," so to speak (he actually sang the parts of all of the male characters in the story), for the duration of the set proper, refraining from greeting the audience until after the dragon had been slain and the princess rescued and the One Ring melted in the fires of Mount Doom or whatever.

But there was still crowd-interaction aplenty, especially from the two guest vocalists who have joined the band for this album and tour, Becky Stark of the Los Angeles folk act Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond.

Caparisoned for their roles in some kind of elfin wedding gown and a black tunic and silver leggings, respectively, the two pinch-singers turned the theatricality up to eleven. In her scenery-chewing role as the evil queen, Worden recalled Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's, flailing and gesticulating as only heavy metal singers and arch-nemeses may. Last night, she got to be both.

And what do you do when you have a pair of sirens like Stark and Worden in the lineup? Well, you cover Heart's "Crazy on You," naturally. As if to reward the crowd's patience, Meloy & Co. closed out the evening with an eight-song grab-bag set that found half the band wading through the audience during the aptly titled "A Cautionary Song" and standing on chairs in the orchestra pit to perform an impromptu, severely abridged "Hamlet" narrated by the puppetmaster Meloy.

Okay, so maybe you had to be there. But O! to witness that audience all singing the chorus of the ebullient closer "Sons and Daughters" was to fall prey to an enchantment mellifluous and mightie.

-- CHRIS KLIMEK

By J. Freedom du Lac |  June 9, 2009; 12:30 PM ET Live Last Night
Previous: Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey: Live Last Night | Next: TV on the Radio: Live Last Night

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Have you seen the Decemberists play before? This show probably had the least enthusiastic crowd I have seen at any of their shows. I am all for the rock opera format, but The Hazards of Love really pulls the gang away from their strength--Mr Meloy--and this problem on the album was exacerbated live, as the guest vocalists really do the band a disservice. The audience did pull through at the end when the band rolled out some favorites. The Decemberists really need to think about how to perform this show to not leave the audience dissapointed. I am still really excited to see them again tomorrow night at Radio City Music Hall, but not as much as I was before last night's performance.

Posted by: crancix | June 9, 2009 2:08 PM

No one was at the TV on the Radio concert last night? Come on.

Posted by: agl132 | June 9, 2009 2:36 PM

Keep this up, Mr.Klimek, and I may actually download an MP3 or 3 of theirs, just to see what all the fuss is about.

Posted by: NickPayne | June 9, 2009 2:47 PM

crancix-
The guest vocalists were fabulous and, as an ardent Decemberists fan, I was excited to see the new direction the band is taking with Hazards of Love. Change can be good.
Also, I have to mention that Colin Meloy carried that show, and I was very impressed by his energy and stamina throughout the first set.

Posted by: sofeasible | June 10, 2009 12:03 PM

In Meloy & Co's defense, this was a rather awkward venue. This is the third time I've seen the band and, in my opinion, the best. They all seem to perform the Hazards of Love with more passion than a set of assorted songs from their other albums. Did you see the part when Colin got so intense his glasses fell off and he had to stop playing to pick them up?

Posted by: pinballwizard311 | June 10, 2009 11:50 PM

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