The Decemberists returned home to an enthusiastic full house at Portland’s Keller Auditorium. Frontman, Colin Meloy, walking onstage following a Pomp & Circumstance style intro, with a goblet and his guitar, settled in to sing “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, song #1 off their new album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World .
By the second chorus the rest of the band joined him onstage to finish the song. Looking very polished, the men were dressed in suit and tie with the ladies dressed in black. The stage was set with a larger than life backdrop of the album’s quilt cover design which changed colors and highlighted different parts of the quilt throughout the concert.
Next up was ‘Cavalry Captain.’ “I am the cavalry captain/I am the remedy to your heart/I am the common collective/I am imprinted upon your stars.”
Colin is at ease and engaging with his audience and introduced his band by saying, “We are The Decemberists, we’re from here, and we’re going to give you some of the old, the new, and hopefully, you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth.” Judging from audience reaction the entire evening, it was felt they were not disappointed and got much more than their money’s worth.
Playing the familiar, ‘Down by the Water,’ it was the first single off The King is Dead album and was nominated for Best Rock Song at the 54th Grammy Awards. Recorded during the spring of 2010, and released in 2011, most of it was made during a six week period in a barn at Portland’s 80 acre, Pendarvis Farm.
Colin briefly talked about songwriting, writing the practical vs. impractical. What started as a very practical song to get his son to eat his food, “Hank, eat your oatmeal/Hank, eat your naan bread” later became “Calamity Song,’” another one from The King is Dead album.
Exactly ten years ago this day was the release of Picaresque so they thought they would play a few songs from that album. ‘The Engine Driver” had some in the audience jumping to their feet in dance only to be quickly sat down by Keller concert security. Fortunately, by the last third of the show, everyone was able to stand and dance at will.
Chris Funk’s guitar intro to ‘On the Bus Mall,’ also from Picaresque, was fabulous! “In matching blue raincoats/our shoes were our show boats we kicked around/From stairway to station we made a sensation with the gadabout crowd.”
Off their latest album, ‘The Wrong Year” sings “Could be that he’s into you, could be that the opposite is true/and he wants you, but you won’t do/and it won’t leave you alone/and the rain falls on the wrong year/and it won’t leave you alone/it won’t leave you alone.”
Saying that “it” feels “a little buttoned up but it is the Keller after all” he launched into another crowd favorite, “Make You Better.”: “I want you thin fingers/I wanted you, thin fingernails/and when you bend backwards I wanted you/I needed you to make me better.”
Chris brought out his pedal steel, Kate, for ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ off their fourth album, The Crane Wife, “I will dress your eyelids with dimes upon your eyes/laying close to water/green your grave will rise.”
While on the road, the band longed to come home and see some rain. Once they arrived, it was to find out it’s been more like Santa Barbara weather than Portland. This led to playing “a song about a city quite different than ours, ‘Los Angeles, I’m Yours’ from the album, Her Majesty. “There is a city by the sea/a gentle company/I don’t suppose you want to/and as it tells its sorry tale/in harrowing detail/its hollowness will haunt you.”
‘The Bagman’s Gambit’ from Picaresque, featured an electric performance between Nate’s upright bass and Chris’ electric guitar that had the crowd clapping in feverish pitch to the song’s dramatic ending.
Off the latest album, ‘Carolina Low’ featured just Colin and the two backup singers who were incredible talents on vocals, even the guitar at times. With the haunting sounds of the guitar, and the backing vocals, one can imagine being that “boy from the high country coming down from the mountain to bow to the sea.”
By the time ‘The Rake’s Song’ from The Hazards of Love album played, almost the entire auditorium was standing and clapping. Colin divided the audience into thirds and had each section clap its own rhythm which made for a powerful sound, along with Jenny and Chris’ drumming.
Because the Keller has a strict curfew, it only allowed for a one song encore, ‘The Mariner’s Revenge’, another from Picaresque. The audience was instructed to sound “like they’d been swallowed by a whale” when given a cue. Just before the signal was given, a giant whale cutout appeared onstage and ‘ate’ each member of the band, one by one. This song was very theatrical and the audience sang, clapped, screamed, and danced right along with it. At over 8 minutes, this was the perfect finale.
Seeing a Decemberists’ performance is one that transports you for a couple of hours to the theater, rock concert, or dramedy with the audience chomping at the bit to play a role. The band clearly enjoyed playing to their hometown, and the audience rewarded them with enthusiastic gratitude.
The Minus 5 opened the show for a 30 minute set that raised the energy with their Alt-Rock/Americana vibe. This is Scott McCaughey’s most high-profile project of his 30+ year music career. It is a collective of like-minded musicians who come and go as they please including many members of The Decemberists. In fact, Jenny Conlee came out to play keys on two of the band’s songs.
They ended their set with the rocking, frenetic, ‘Aw, Shit Man’ “Don’t know if I can take it, don’t know if I can take it, Aw, shit man!” Those last three words were probably what most everyone was thinking when the entire evening came to a close.