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Sunday, January 27, 2008
The Decemberists at the Crystal Ballroom - 1/23/07
You know how people gush over Bruce Springsteen now? Regardless or whether or not they've been into him since his early days in Jersey or just discovered him after realizing he's recorded songs other than "Born in the USA"? Well, I'm about to slather Colin Meloy with that same brand of devout acclaim.
The man is goddamn American treasure and I hope one day he'll receive the same sort of accolades Bruce has received for decades now. After a mysterious illness led to the cancellation of the Decemberists' "Long and Short of It" tour, the band played two dates in Portland this week.
I went to the second show. During which, Meloy jumped into the crowd, ran across the Crystal Ballroom, danced a jig on a table and crowd surfed his way back to the stage. He also led the audience in an over-21 vs under-21 sing-along, hosted an impromptu reenactment of the Shanghai Tunnel legends and recruited twenty audience members on stage to sing the chorus of "Sons and Daughters."
This could all be written off as gimmickry if these theatrics weren't accompanied by nearly two hours of solid music making. I can think of no band I've seen live in my entire life that plays with the same sort of enthusiasm and unbridled passion that Meloy and the Decemberists do. I can't tell you the number of shows I've been to where it's all the band on stage can do to mutter a few "thank you"s into the mic and get through a 90-minute set. The Decemberists actually seem to enjoy going up on stage and playing music for their fans.
So, yes, the Decemberists more than made up for going MIA last fall. Offering no explanation for their absence other than a quick apology, the band was in top form with nary a bit of rust holding them back after months of inactivity. After a 15-minute "Mariner's Revenge Song" that closed the initial set, they returned to the stage for an extended "A Cautionary Tale." About halfway through, guitarist Chris Funk jumped into the crowd to reenact a Shanghai Tunnel kidnapping with volunteers from the crowd.
Before the final chorus of "Sons and Daughters," the band stopped playing so Meloy could tell the crowd to carry its words "through the debates and primaries in the months to come." He invited some of the teenagers up front on stage to sing the song's fading chorus, "here all the bombs fade away." Despite being an incredibly cheesy "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" move, it was heartfelt and sincere enough to make it worthwhile.
Then, for me at least, that magical little concert moment was undermined five minutes later when I overheard one of those teens loudly brag "I so stole the fucking set list" at the crosswalk on Burnside.
Where does the band go from here? Their last album, The Crane Wife was their first release on a major album. It received a substantial amount of good press from critics but others knocked the band for regurgitating more of the same "Victorian schtick." How much longer can Meloy keep writing songs about peasants and long-forgotten ghosts before the charm of it all fades away? Well, the Boss has been coughing-up the same songs about modern era hard luck cases for thirty years now and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Here's hoping the Decemberists are still landing themselves 5-star reviews in 2035.