The Decemberists – [Live]

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Those in attendance at Oakland’s recently spiffed-up Fox Theater were witness to a veritable menagerie and quite the spectacle of a live show. In support of their latest album The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists, fronted by consummate storyteller Colin Meloy, brought this creation to life for the sold-out crowd. The concept album, originally imagined by Meloy as a musical, was performed in its entirety and followed by a second, full set of songs from previous albums as well as a two-song encore. While the trip through their catalog of past music was an unexpected treat, it was the epic first hour of ambitious rock theater that was the highlight of the evening.

An evolutionary—if not eccentric—project following the 2006 release of The Crane Wife (which itself was inspired by a Japanese folk tale), Hazards has all of the requisite twists and sly wit of the best theatrical productions around. The narrative—best enjoyed with a copy of the liner notes and an inclination toward the literary—details the story surrounding star-crossed lovers William and Margaret including all the lust, love, betrayal, foreshadowing, murder, angst and revenge one could imagine. There’s even a shape-shifting animal and a clever and all-too enjoyable scene of serial infanticide along the way. It’s great fun, especially for those who consume rather than just listen to music.

The Fox Theater was the second stop of the "A Short Fazed Hovel" tour for the band, who end the first leg of their tour in June at Bonnaroo. Meloy was backed by Chris Funk (guitar), Jenny Conlee (piano, organ and accordion), Nate Query (bass guitar, string bass), and John Moen (drums).Joining the band are guests Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden. The two are startling contrasts as Stark appears like a sprite onstage and fits perfectly as the tranquil but vulnerable voice of Margaret while Worden’s potent Grace Slick-inspired vocals consistently elicited roars of approval from the crowd in her rollicking performance of the forest queen.

The live storytelling is done by Meloy, who is the voice of several characters and delivers the memorable imagery with great enthusiasm. “And painting rings around your eyes these peppered holes so filled with crying. A whisper weighed upon the tattered down where you and I were lying.” The stage full of musicians (no less than four drummers on “The Rake Song”) was able to weave ‘60s and ‘70s prog-rock, quirky pop, folk storytelling, gleaming pedal steel and lush ballads into a coherent and modern magnum opus. The show was a satisfying testament to the fantastic, dramatic, evil, saccharine, sanguine and the tragic. It’s Alice in Wonderland meets The Wall.


The Decemberists – “The Rake's Song” – [mp3]

The Hazards of Love is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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