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The Decemberists at Tower Theatre

June 9, 2009

Over the weekend, I had the good fortune of seeing The Decemberists at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA (essentially Philadelphia).  I have previously written a couple of posts lauding the band, but the show outpaced even my very high expectations.

The worst part of the evening, easily, was the opening act: Robyn Hitchcock.  Though once a seemingly important member of the music scene with The Soft Boys, Hitchcock’s performance was off kilter from the moment he walked on stage.  The band never synced, the lyrics were at times laughable, and the few moments of vocal harmony were far from pleasant.  But really, enough about the bad, let’s move on toward the good.

After Robyn Hitchcock finally left the stage there was a twenty minute break to appropriately set the various instruments to be played throughout the night, after which Jenny Conlee sneaked onto stage left behind her array of keyed instruments to pound out the haunting Prelude of The Hazards of Love.  The audience was kind enough to stay seated during the first portion of the show.  Much like the audience at Sufjan Stevens’ performance of his BQE, this group was unsure how to behave during the rock opera.  During the droning organ movements, the other members of the band (expanded to a septet for the tour of Hazards) occupied the dark stage trailed by Colin Meloy with a beautiful Gibson acoustic who was met with roaring applause from the expectant audience.

Once set, the band launched into a full performance of The Hazards of Love that rivals the note-for-note perfection of the album.  Throughout the night I was struck by their uncanny ability to replicate their unique studio sound in a live venue.

Following the incredible sensitive ending to “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned,” the band took a fifteen minute intermission then came back onstage for a performance of their older materials.  They played a fair smattering of their catalogue (excluding The Tain and, surprisingly, Picaresque) and were supremely entertaining.

Colin Meloy, as can be expected, is quite clever with his between-songs banter and is the only artist I have ever heard to use the word ‘douchey’ to describe the chord progression of a song he wrote (“Dracula’s Daughter”).

Highlights, for me, include “Sleepless” from the Dark Was The Night compilation, a through-the-audience chase between Chris Funk and Meloy during “Chimbley Sweep,” Becky Stark and Shara Worden returning to the stage to sing a particularly good cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” and the audience rising in unison to sing “Hear all the bombs fade away” to end the show with “Sons and Daughters.”

Here’s the set list:

Hazards of Love (whole album)

Crane Wife 3
Shiny
Sleepless
July, July
Summersong
Dracula’s Daughter
O Valencia
Chimbley Sweep
Crazy on You (cover)

(encore)
Bandit Queen
Sons and Daughters

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