Each track by the Portland, Oregon sextet is completely unique, and strong enough to stand alone and hold a rooms attention. The Decemberists open into California One/Youth And Beauty Brigade. They slip into The Infanta, all while the crowd stops talking, and the only sound you hear besides the music is the applause and cheering. A band that demands respect from the very beginning!
This Sporting Life throws in a touch of Morrisey. We Both Go Down Together, is a song about a suicide pact, sung so joyously you wouldn’t even realize without special attention being paid to the jam-packed lyrics. A contradiction to some of their other songs where their music from the outside can seem intensely serious, but looking deeper into the lyrics you start to appreciate some of the light-heartedness. A gentle balance of seriousness and humour is the glue that sticks all these different songs together.
Meloy’s humour extends not only to his actions when he sings, but he considers the crowd before him. He insistently breaks into mid-gig Callanetics. He then proceeds to ask everyone to “…turn to their right, shake the persons hand, and share their favourite movie”. Everyone was then commanded to sit down on the floor, and be completely silent. All 4 tiers of Koko ceased at a grinding halt, whilst Meloy “…gave our legs a break”. I found it a little bizarre, but my friends loved the intimacy it brought.
He commands power and control over the crowd, as if he were one of the ship captains in his songs. Out of the silence, Meloy claims they not only know fellow Oregon’ers The Shins, but to also be better than them. Two quirky bands from the same town, both with a strong sense of humour…and a healthy competitive streak it seems.
Towards the end he wanted everyone to “shake their hands like they just don’t care…then to shake them like they care…don’t care…care…don’t care” after about 5minutes of everyone playing ‘Simon Says’ (and enjoying it!), they break into their next song The Engine Driver. With the sweetest harmonies of “…and if you don’t love me let me go” ringing throughout the venue, it makes you feel lucky to enjoy the Sold out gig even more.
What sets The Decemberists apart from most other bands is a unique antique sound. A far cry from the manufactured rock of the moment. Seriously riff-heavy, Celtic poems, including an assortment of strings and brass create the colourful and creative album Picaresque, it makes you feel shipwrecked back in the 1800s. The accordion on My Own True Love (Lost At Sea) haunts me on my journey home.
The Decemberists are as amazing live, as they are on their albums.
Photo by: Niki Kova’cs