Editor’s Note: The below review is by Tillman Cooper and is the first of two reviews of The Decemberists at The Tabernacle (April 10 and 11) in Atlanta. To read the second review and see more photos (all from April 11), click here.
At last, Portland OR-based band The Decemberists return to Atlanta, GA.
Before the April 10 show at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, it had been almost six years since The Decemberists had played at the venue. On their “Short Fazed Hovel” tour in support of The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists played at The Tabernacle for one night to a packed house of adoring fans. However, on their 2011 tour, the band performed to a sold out crowd at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
While the 2011 show was packed, sounded amazing, and even earned a place on the band’s live album, We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, there was an unintended distance between the band and its fans. Part of the joy of The Decemberists is their live show. The band is made up of five amazing performers, and Colin Meloy, the lead singer/songwriter, could teach a master class on showmanship.
So, it was with a large sigh of relief that Atlanta area fans greeted the news of The Decemberists’ return to The Tabernacle. This time, instead of treating the city to one night of solid performances, the band packed the house for two. All told, the band performed for four hours over two nights, and with the exception of a handful of songs, the sets were vastly different.
On Friday night, the opening band, Alvvays (pronounced Always), found itself playing to a welcoming and enthusiastic crowd. For 40 minutes, the Canadian based group played a strong set of songs from their eponymous debut album, and in between each song the crowd cheered and responded positively. At the end of the evening, it was apparent that Alvvays had earned a number of new fans, whom they greeted at the merchandise table after their set and at the end of the night.
It only took 20 minutes for the Alvvays equipment to be taken off stage and the road crew to set up for The Decemberists. The changeover ran like a well oiled machine, and at 9:00 p.m., the lights dimmed while the now-infamous Egyptian rendition of the Russian nation anthem played through the speakers. Once the off-key and jarring recording finished, a single spotlight hit the stage, and lead singer Colin Meloy strolled to his microphone carrying a large glass of wine.
After replacing the glass of wine with an acoustic guitar, Meloy began the opening strains to “The Singer Addresses his Audience,” the first song off of The Decemberists’ latest album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.
Slowly, over the next few minutes, Meloy was joined on stage by the remaining members of the band as each player added their voice or instrument to the song. First came the background vocalists for this tour, Kelly Hogan and Rachel Flotard, followed by John Moen on drums, Chris Funk on lead guitars, Nate Query on bass and Jenny Conlee on keyboards.
For the next two hours, Meloy led the band through selections from What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World including “Philomena,” “The Wrong Year,” “Carolina Low,” and “Make You Better.” By the end of the night, The Decemberists had played 1/2 of the songs off of their new album.
Interspersed throughout the concert (and unique to the Friday show), the band pulled out some of their fan favorites, including “The Infanta,” “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” “Here I Dreamt I was an Architect,” “Dracula’s Daughter,” and the entirety of “The Crane Wife.”
Also in the Friday night set were other older songs that they would play again on Saturday, including “Down by the Water,” “The Rake Song,” “16 Military Wives,” “The Calamity Song,” and “O Valencia!” As he always does, Meloy conducted the crowd through a few audience participation sequences, including an elaborate series of clapping patterns during “The Rake Song,” and a competitive sing along during “16 Military Wives.”
At the end of the show, when most bands would be exhausted from their performance, the group took the stage one last time for a two-song encore made up from “12/17/12” and fan favorite “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Most fans of The Decemberists know how important audience participation is during “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” The band has been playing it in front of audiences for over a decade now, but Meloy always preps the crowd for the song by walking them through what is expected of them about 3/4 of the way through. He explained that the fans would play the role of a ship’s crew that gets swallowed by a whale. Chris Funk then began to “teach” the audience the visual cue that would be used to instruct the audience to scream at the top of their lungs.
Of course, the cue was really just another joke, because this time the band brought a ten foot tall prop whale that proceeded to gobble up the entire band. At the end of the night, the group bowed, thanked the crowd, and Meloy told everyone that he would see them tomorrow.
As is their way, the band left absolutely nothing on stage. They played each song with obvious affection for the material, each other, and above all else… the fans. The Decemberists are truly a rarity in the world of music today: a band that can not only write catchy and elaborate songs, but play them to perfection on-stage. Meloy has nearly mastered the art of the frontman, and helps make sure that every concert The Decemberists plays is as unique and special as the band’s music itself.
The Decemberists continue their continue their North American tour throughout the spring and summer. Tour dates and tickets can be purchased at TheDecemberists.com.
Gallery: Alvvays at The Tabernacle (April 11) – Photos by Tillman Cooper
Gallery: The Decemberists at The Tabernacle (April 11) – Photos by Tillman Cooper