Six months ago I barely knew The Decemberists, but last Thursday I saw them play what was one of my favourite gigs of the year. I became properly aware of them thanks to their excellent track on the ‘Dark Was The Night’ compilation, and at the point this gig went on sale I’d given their album ‘The Crane Wife’ a few spins, but I knew at that point this could be a band I’d grow to love, so bought a ticket in good faith.
A major selling point of the gig was the promised full performance of new album ‘The Hazards Of Love’. There was once a time when albums were designed to be played from start to finish, not chopped up into tracks for the radio, a bunch of filler to make it long enough to reach ‘album’ status, and some iTunes bonus tracks to make fans buy it twice. Some took the album concept further, creating a story or narrative from start to finish, with tracks blending one into another. The term ‘Rock Opera’ is often used, some of my favourite examples of such include Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and Genesis’ ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’. These particular examples are also famous for the live full album performances that accompanied them, often on a grand scale. Having missed out on experiencing these firsthand due to my tender young age (bootlegs and tribute bands have helped me experience what I missed out on, but never come close enough to the originals), the concept of a modern-day band performing their own creation in full appealed greatly to me.
The first half of the gig was the full performance of ‘The Hazards…’, start to finish, not even stopping to greet the crowd until the last note had been played. The live environment brought the album even more to life, with extra energy and passion. The 5 members recreated the folk/prog/indie/americana masterpiece perfectly, with guest vocalists Becky Stark and Shara Worden (who absolutely belted it out for ‘The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid’) present for their parts. The album features some great elements of 70s prog – fat guitar riffs and lots of organ, all delivered superbly by the band. It was a stunning performance, and I would have left perfectly happy had that been the complete gig. Of course I wasn’t going to say no to some more…
After a 20 minute break the band returned to play a selection of tracks from previous albums. There was a heavy focus on Hazards’ predecessors ‘The Crane Wife’ and ‘Picaresque’, which was great as it meant I knew most of those played (I really need to check out the rest of the back catalogue though). After the relative seriousness of the first set, the band’s personality shone through with some fun crowd singalongs, one being conducted by singer Colin Meloy, and everyone looking like they were having a great time. Song highlights for me were ‘The Crane Wife 3′, ’16 Military Wives’ and ‘Yankee Bayonet’, but nothing could beat the epic closer ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’ which featured the crowd making noises “like you’re being swallowed by a whale” and an inflatable whale bouncing around the top of the crowd.
For me it was like two separate and amazing gigs – one being the sheer brilliance of a superb album getting the full live treatment, the other being a fun sing and dance along set that left me with a massive grin. Can’t wait for my next Decemberists fix!