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Thursday, October 19, 2006


An open letter to the Decemberists

Dear Mr. Meloy and crew,

The show started well enough. Was that the guy from KNRK that read the introduction before y'all came out on stage? The British programming director? The same guy who never plays your music on the air? Aw, it doesn't matter. That bit about making everyone turn to the person next to them to introduce themselves in ten words or less? Classic. Many actually obliged. Based on the intro and all the pretty candles and pumpkin lights hanging over the stage, this was sure to be a show for the ages.

Then you, yes, you, Mr. Meloy came riding out on the heels of a big time recording contract and...played a slow acoustic ballad. Ok, that's fine. You wanted to start things off "intimate." Let me tell you something. The two drunk girls to my left? They didn't come to the Crystal Ballroom last night to listen to quiet acoustic ballads about cannibalism, whaling and premature babies abandoned in ravines. They came here to listen to upbeat, uptempo and somewhat uplifting ballads about cannibalism, whaling and premature babies abandoned in ravines. The incredibly drunk and stoned gentleman to my left? He came here for one thing and one thing only: "Sixteen Military Wives."

And y'all disappointed them. Sure, they probably rolled downtown from Tigard after reading a write-up about you in a copy of the Mercury they found outside of a Starbucks on Barbur Boulevard. These folks probably can't hum the chorus from one of your songs. I suspect they went down to West Burnside to get trashed and dance and they couldn't bloody well do that while you were singing a mellow 20-minute song about someone's wife turing into a crane.

You teased them with three brief minutes of music busy enough to get their hips shaking and heads nodding but then what did you do? You delved back in the slow track about blood-crazed butchers and their penchant for sharpening knives before they terrorize their hometown. Zzzzzzzz. Could you hear everyone talking through all the tedium? Did you notice how many people walked out before you made it to the 20-minute song about the guy and his bird wife? Did you have to play every single slow song in your back catalog?

A word to the wise: when you're going to play a concert hall with a bouncing dance floor, you'd best play a substantial amount of music appropriate for such a venue. Yes, yes, yes, all the ballads were very pretty but the Crystal Ballroom isn't the place for that sort of thing, especially since the management stopped selling beer in containers smaller than 20 ounces. You should consider yourselves lucky. All of those suburbanites in the audience could have taken a tip from all of your murder ballads and stormed the stage. Y'all could have become the subjects of a song written by history-majors-cum-demigods-in-the-eyes-of-Pitchfork's-staff a few centuries from now. It could have been called "The Night the Service Industry Populace of Beaverton Impaled the Decemberists with Broken Pieces of an Accordion." Such a thing could have begun with a line like, "I'm a chimbly, chimbly Best Buy clerk, I paid $20 to see this band and they won't stop singing boring songs about cranes..."

On the other hand, the girl who held up the sign in Japanese and gave you a paper crane? She sure seemed to dig it all. But if 1/5 of the crowd at one of your hometown shows walks out before the encore, how is all of this going to play in a town like Los Angeles? I'm sure they like that song about how much their city makes you puke but the crane stuff? And what about Dallas? Did you think about Dallas?

I'll give you this, you brought your A-game for the encore. "16 Military Wives" AND "The Legionnaire's Lament" AND "A Cautionary Tale." Sure, Mr. Meloy looked bored as hell playing that first one but, hey, bravo. I also thought I'd never get a chance to hear that last one live. It's the first song of yours I heard and, as nasty as it is, it's my favorite. And when you had the drummer come out into the audience and run around? Pure magic.

The drunk and stoned gentleman to my left screamed "10 more songs" as you headed off stage a second time. You had a chance to redeem yourselves after what was, you've got to admit, a lackluster display of your talents. Y'all left us hanging with no "Leslie Anne Levine" and no "July, July!" and no "Chimbley Sweep" and no "Sporting Life" and no "Mariner's Revenge Song." Not even a trip down the "Bus Mall" for old time's sake. For shame.

But thanks for playing "A Cautionary Tale." Even if the kids from suburbia didn't stick around long enough to see how hard you can kick an audience's pantaloons when you feel like it.



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