Last Night: The Decemberists at the Warfield
November 25, 2008
The Warfield (982 Market St.)
Review by Melissa Baron
Better than: Sitting on the plane headed home for Thanksgiving, dreading the weekend ahead filled with irritating family affairs and listening to the Decemberists on your iPod.
Portland's Decemberists infused a sold-out Warfield audience with their jovial pomp and circumstance Tuesday night. Notorious for pageantry, the five piece transported the audience from Japan to New England to California with their vocal tales of death, deceit, fantasy and love. This tour, titled the Bridesmaid Revisited tour, supports the release of several new EPs ("Always the Bridesmaid - The Single Series"). The tongue in cheek-ness is of course, intentional. For almost two hours the band convinced the audience their $32 were worth every penny.
In the almost-decade the band has been in existence, its members have developed their dramatic flair and perfectly synchronized live show. They deliver a polished and refined performance highlighting the musical capabilities of each performer and emphasizing the whimsical stories each song tells. This particular performance remained thematically separated from previous tours, as the band notoriously uses those occasions to heavily promote their most recent album or tours around a particular shtick. For example, when they released Crane Wife in 2006, they played nearly the entire album at their shows. And, several years ago, they toured in a series called the Long of It and the Short of It, spending two nights in each city playing one evening full of ballads and the other pop songs. Last night they played snippets of the new EPs, but also featured an assortment of songs from their impressive repertoire.
Musically, the Decemberists constantly play beautifully involved and complicated instrumentals. The band members immerse themselves in their instruments, displaying an obvious knowledge of every curve and bend of each instrument and the tone it can produce. But beyond their performance, the Decemberists delivered a concert experience. They indulged the audience in active participation. At the end of "Billy Liar," Meloy divided the audience into groups to sing different layered vocal parts. Before playing their new song "Valerie Plame," Meloy expressed his excitement regarding Obama's victory and explained that this song commemorates the major failures and negative legacy of the Bush administration. Near the end of the song he encouraged the audience to sing along and put their arms around each other. Immediately the crowd grabbed their neighbor and everyone sang together. He remarked that San Francisco most readily embraced the person next to them in comparison with other cities.
Later, during "The Perfect Crime #2," he again organized the audience into sections and had each section clap in different rhythms to stack on one another. While San Francisco was most loving, it was not very good at keeping time. "16 Military Wives" prompted a call and response between Meloy and the audience with a political twist. During the instrumental interlude, the band kept playing and Meloy discussed their experience watching the election in New York City. He called out "yes we can" and the audience yelled back "yes we did." Then they finished the song. For the last song, "Sons and Daughters," Meloy brought openers Loch Lomond to the stage and instructed the audience to sing the refrain with arms around each other once again.
The Decemberists are known for their infamous encores, usually involving much dramatic flair. Last night they played a simmered down version of their legendary "Mariners Revenge." Originally they paraded through the audience followed by a giant paper whale mouth. Last night everyone stayed on stage and the closest thing to a whale jaw was guitarist Chris Funk's arms emulating a whale eating to signal the audience to scream. This end routine seems to be a new staple for them; unfortunate for people who have seen the band many times. Once they broke the audience into two groups and came down into the crowd to help enact a war scene, but I have yet to see that again. The encore seemed thrilling enough for all the Decemberists novices in the audience.
Set List: "Shanty for the Arethusa," "July, July," "Billy Liar," "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect," Valerie Plame," "Oceanside," "Record Year," "the Engine Driver," "On the Bus Mall," "Days of Elaine," "the Perfect Crime #2," "Culling of the Fold," "Dracula's Daughter," "O Valencia!," "16 Military Wives," "Sons and Daughters."
Encore: "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade," "Mariners Revenge."
Personal Bias: This is one of my favorite bands and I have seen them MANY times.
Random Detail: During "Culling of the Fold," Meloy stood right in front of the barricade and at one point he took some boy's phone, searched through it during the song, picked a person in it and called to sing the song to them.
By the Way: They have a new album coming out in March and will be back here next spring to promote it.