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The Decemberists

The Decemberists at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood, CA, May 19th, 2009

May 26, 2009 Web Exclusive Photography by Michele Yamamoto Bookmark and Share

As anyone who has been to a Decemberists show can testify, a show is certainly ensured. On previous tours, the stage has been marked with lanterns, classy outfits, cardboard props—who could forget the whale coming out to devour the band? And the show doesn’t end at the barricade either. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy is well known for calling on the audience for assistance—I also seem to remember seeing an entire floor of concertgoers getting on their knees and springing up on cue. With the release of 2006’s The Crane Wife, much of the visual impact had been ceded to the extended forms of the music itself. This year’s The Hazards of Love, which acts more like a rock opera than all previous endeavors, was presented last Tuesday night on its own terms. With minimal stagecraft, The Decemberists performed Hazards in its entirety in their first set and a mixed bag in its second.

In front of an awkwardly distributed crowd at the Hollywood Palladium, the band pushed through each of the piece’s transitions with relative ease.

Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark was enchanting in her white gown as she rose to the mic early as Margaret, the main love interest. Her voice, a delicate soprano, perfect for the part. However, it was little Shara Worden in full, robust contralto that invigorated the stage during “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid.” Her ability to cull such a warm and powerful tone while constantly in motion was remarkable. She brought a sprightly presence to the front of the stage, occasionally flailing her arms, marvelously in character.

For “The Rake’s Song,” three floor toms aside from those in drummer John Moen’s kit were struck on stage. The percussive chorus effect added to the frenetic energy stored in the audience after “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid.” Of course, the band always seems eager to work with instruments and instrumentations not often considered for rock—accordions, harpsichord effects on keys, double bass, and whatever that crazy instrument is on Picaresque‘s “Eli, The Barrow Boy.” On Hazards, one of the more anachronistic choices is the harpsichord effect which keyboardist Jenny Conlee brings in to the live performance as well. And somehow, it makes sense.

The Decemberists managed to pull through the album with energy and grace. Perhaps, it’s a testament to the effectiveness of the album that it works so well as one piece. It faltered only when a recording of a children’s choir was used in place of a live source. Even from a clear vantage point, the sudden appearance of a new sound without a new body of origin was disorienting. And for having made it clear that the first set was going to be Hazards, the crowd seemed consistently—albeit pleasantly—surprised with the beginning of each new song.

By the end of Hazards, the band would have every reason to be exhausted, but they were only getting started. Perhaps unfortunately.

The second set was predictably lower on energy and without the constant forward motion of the Hazards narrative, but all hands were on deck to keep the show moving. Opening with “Los Angeles, I’m Yours”—always an L.A. crowd favorite, for some reason—and ending with “Sons and Daughters,” they wove their way through virtually all of their releases, including Meloy’s “Dracula’s Daughter.”

Again, Meloy called on the audience to sing, “Hear all the bombs fade away,” in the closing song of the second set. But the show closer, “I Was Meant For The Stage,” practically gives the audiences its cues in the lyrics. As Meloy managed, “I was meant to raise these hands with quiet all about me,” the audience mostly fell silent. It is a rock show, after all. What do you expect? By the end of the obligatory noise coda, Meloy and bassist Nate Query were supine, mid-stage with instruments in the air. The band had nearly exhausted themselves and even the audience managed to join the performance before the night was over.

Perhaps, I’ve misjudged. Perhaps, it was the second set that carried all the excitement and energy typical of The Decemberists. It was just The Hazards of Love live that really took typical Decemberists into more exceptional waters.


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