Friday, April 22, 2011

The raincoat that you wore when it rained today

In case you hadn't noticed, I like to select my concert recap titles from the lyrics of songs played at the show in question. Typically, I don't think about what line I might use until afterward. I'll admit, though, that as soon as the Decemberists announced their April 19th show in Madison, just days after I saw them in Milwaukee on February 5th, it occurred to me that I'd have plenty of fitting lyrics to choose from. "Raise your glass to turnings of the season." "To cold climes comes springtime." "Summer swells anon."

Well, the weather on Tuesday certainly put the kibosh on that. Rainy, sleety, sometimes snowy, it was not a pleasant spring day by any stretch of the imagination. Judging from the pockets of empty seats at the Overture Center (and the number of cars I saw off the road on my way downtown), the kibosh was put on the plans of more than a few people. However, those of us who attended saw a very good show - and likely the last one Wisconsin will see from the Decemberists for awhile.

Justin Townes Earle opened the show, accompanied for most songs by a violin player/second vocalist. I'd never seen Justin before, but I'd heard tales. Some were about his offstage antics, but more were about his skill as a performer. At the Overture, the only allusion to non-musical activities came when Justin mentioned he'd been kicked out of thirteen schools ... before leaving in the ninth grade. Impressive? His performance skills, however, were readily apparent. Justin has a great voice, and seems to go off into his own world during songs. My favorite tune of his set was a blues number whose name I can't recall, but it nearly got a standing ovation from the crowd.

When the Decemberists took the stage, there were actually only two of them to begin with: Colin and John. Together they performed a lovely, fitting rendition of "The Raincoat Song." The rest of the band joined in for "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect," a song I hadn't seen live in a long time. It reminded me of the Intonation Festival in Chicago, and summer in general.

The Overture sounds terrific, but it can be a somewhat sterile place for a rock show. Last time I saw the Decemberists there, in 2009, it was a general admission show that had been moved from the Orpheum. The crowd behaved accordingly, jumping over seats in some cases after the show began to get closer to the front. On Tuesday, by contrast, the vibe during the first few songs was very polite. That is, until someone from the balcony called out between songs for Colin to "tell everybody to stand up and dance!" Colin noted that there did seem to be some open seats on the floor, if anyone wanted to come down from the various balcony levels to fill them in.

Of course, that was all it took for fans - mostly young fans - to scurry down and stand directly in front of the stage. This lasted for a song or two, until security cleared them out because of fire regulations. Colin tried to coax them into letting the kids back up, but to no avail. By that time, however, the empty seats had been filled and much of the crowd was standing. It felt more like a "real show," as Colin put it, for the rest of the night. Colin and Chris Funk had some fun with the security guards later on, with Colin playing his guitar directly at one of them and trading low fives, and Chris Funk attempting to seduce another during "The Mariner's Revenge Song." I couldn't see exactly what was going on, but he returned to the main stage with his shirt completely unbuttoned.

Madison's set wasn't too different from the one the band played in Milwaukee in February, but there was plenty to keep things interesting for folks who had seen both shows. "Rise to Me" was gorgeous once again, and even more poignant now that I know the story behind it. Seeing Sara Watkins take lead vocals on "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" was excellent, and so was the "Crane Wife" trio played in order. And when Colin came out with a Wisconsin solidarity sticker on his guitar and said a few words before playing "This is Why We Fight," the band got the loudest and longest cheer of the night.

"June Hymn" was the closing number, and it left me satisfied but longing for true spring and early summer. It also left me a bit sad, wondering if this was the last I'd see of the Decemberists for a long time. In a recent interview, Colin said after this tour the band will take an extended break; maybe three or four years. I've been lucky to see the Decemberists and Colin about fourteen times over the past nine years, and I'm happy that I took advantage of their appearances in Wisconsin (and sometimes Illinois) whenever I could. I enjoyed every minute of it. Whether I see them again sometime this summer on an unexpected trip, or I see them again in five years, I'm confident I'll feel the same.

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