Thursday, August 6, 2009
Isn't it a lovely night?
Over the past six years I've seen the Decemberists eight times, and Colin Meloy solo four times. All were in Madison or the Chicago area. Of those combined twelve shows, only two venues have been repeats. The Decemberists' fanbase has grown steadily over the years - in size, if not in age, though I'm doing my part to drag the average up. On Wednesday night the band played their largest venue in Madison yet: the Overture Center. I don't relish the prospect of shows on the 7-foot Orpheum stage, and thought the Overture seemed better-suited for The Hazards of Love, so the venue upgrade was welcome news to me. In spite of a few questions on how the Overture would handle GA, I anticipated a fine night of music.
The Overture lobby struggled to accommodate curving lines of fans before doors opened, but the procession into the theater was orderly. The Heartless Bastards actually came on a bit early to open the show, and I liked their set. Sound quality at the front of the theater wasn't the best, but that's an expected trade-off I'm more than willing to make. During the break between sets I turned around to take in the sight of a nearly full Overture Hall. Very impressive.
The Decemberists' first set consisted of The Hazards of Love played in its entirety. The album hasn't grabbed me the way that most of the band's material has in the past, though I respect and appreciate what they've accomplished with it. Seeing it performed live, however, I was captivated. The Hazards of Love is the band's most theatrical release in many ways; a concept album that tells a complete (somewhat fantastical) story from start to finish. Listening to it is a bit like listening to a musical soundtrack. I found it very interesting, then, that the actual performance of The Hazards of Love was the least "theatrical" I've ever seen the Decemberists. There was no playful back and forth with the crowd, no singalong gimmicks, no props. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy all of those things. But this was very much an in-character performance. Colin alternated between William and the Rake, taking command with "The Rake's Song." (Which I loved. All of those drums!) Becky Stark floated about the stage as Margaret. Shara Worden leapt and howled (and smiled an awful lot) as the Queen. The audience wasn't acknowledged until the last notes of the lovely "Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)" had faded away, and I'd had time to recover from Chris Funk's awesomeness on pedal steel. It was truly a unique concert experience ... one I wouldn't mind repeating.
The second set saw the return of the usual Decemberists, with bonuses. Bonuses like Shara Worden taking the female vocal role on "Yankee Bayonet," and joining Becky Sharp for a joyous and energetic cover of Heart's "Crazy on You." Colin was chatty, explaining why we owe him a debt of gratitude (his song "Dracula's Daughter" is so bad that it made God cry a single tear, creating the lakes of Wisconsin) and reminiscing about the precarious Orpheum stage. He made use of the entire stage at the Overture, which is always a bit of an adventure when there's no barrier between the stage and the front row. The second encore began with a solo performance of the gorgeous "Red Right Ankle," and the band ended the show with "Sons and Daughters." Singing "hear all the bombs fade away" over and over at the top of your lungs with a theater full of people feels wonderful. (It is what the "Kingpin" scream wants to be.) The soundboard setlist routine didn't fail me on the way out, and I left with a nice physical souvenir of the evening. Well, that and a limited-edition poster that's taken up residence in The Pile at home. I'm weak when it comes to hometown shows.
Decemberists setlist, 8/5/09:
The Hazards of Love [full album]
The Crane Wife, Pt. 3
The Bachelor and the Bride
We Both Go Down Together [w/last verse of Morrissey's "Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together"]
Yankee Bayonet [duet w/Shara Worden]
Rox in the Box
Crazy on You (Heart cover) [Shara Worden and Becky Stark lead vocals]
Red Right Ankle [Colin solo]
Sons & Daughters
More pictures on flickr.