The Decemberists' show at Boston's Orpheum Theater Saturday night was so roundly excellent, so fully enthralling, that the show deserves to stand on its own rather than be subjected to the context of other shows. Even so, the differences between the balls-out and drunken Hold Steady performance Monday [review here] and last night's artful and nuanced Decemberists show are stark. We'll list just a few and move on: the Portland, Ore.-based quintet wore skirts or neck ties and hats, while The Hold Steady wore gas station attendants' shirts; The Decemberists show was staged in a proper theater with a proscenium and stage decorations, while The Hold Steady plied its craft within the grasp of rabid, beery fans; fans at The Decemberists show remained seated through several stirring songs before rising at the close of an electrifying rendition of "Perfect Crime No. 2," while The Hold Steady fans rocked out halfway airborne with plastic cups of suds aloft in what is basically an under-furnished, subterranean storage room with a bar at either side. There are more contrasts, but we'll move along.
The Decemberists' show, which we heard a theater staffer say was sold out despite there being about eight seats to our right that sat empty, kicked off with all three parts of the title track to the augmented quintet's latest set and major label debut The Crane Wife. From there the band kept gathering steam, to the point where the hardcore on The Decemberists message board [sign-up required] complained about the pace of "Here I Drempt I was An Architect" and "July, July." This, of course, didn't bother us, because we like it when rock music rocks. We will, however, agree with sentiments expressed on the board that at times the sound was particularly gamey -- band fronter Colin Meloy's acoustic guitar would occasionally disappear in the mix, as did the ensemble's violins at various times.
The charismatic Meloy alternately regaled and thrilled the crowd with the back story to "A Cautionary Tale" and by staging a ridiculous and impromptu, although dubiously accurate (a meteorite killed the redcoats?), re-enactment of The Boston Massacre in one of the aisles with the help of drummer John Moen, guitarist Chris Funk and supporting multi-instrumentalist Lisa Molinaro. The back story to "A Cautionary Tale?" It so happens Meloy once dated a woman who lived in Boston, and when he visited her here she sent him out for a somewhat miserable inspection of all the tourist spots with her mother, who took a stack of snapshots that Meloy still wonders what to do with today.
We would have loved to hear "The Sporting Life," and several folks in the crowd repeatedly called out to hear the epic "The Tain" -- even when Meloy appeared on stage solo at the onset of the encores. But even without a couple of fan favorites the show was wholly satisfying, capturing as it did an act whose creative arc remains on a pronounced upward path, and we thank the fine folks over at Filter MMM for kindly underwriting our attendance. As usual, we took a battery of largely disappointing photos, and as usual Blogger has highly pixelated the one we are posting atop this item. Oh well. We'll eventually get better at shooting photos, and maybe Blogger will eventually get better at not screwing up photos. In the meantime, enjoy the two MP3s posted below. Note that the live version of "A Cautionary Song" is not from last night. The Decemberists have tour dates booked through the end of February, and you can see them all at the band's MySpace wigwam here.
The Decemberists -- "A Cautionary Song (Live)" -- MySpace Download
The Decemberists -- "The Tain (Demo)" -- MySpace Download
And here's a rough idea of the set-list, thanks to a more mentally together poster at The Decemberists forum:
The Crane Wife parts 1, 2 & 3
We Both Go Down Together
Perfect Crime 2
16 Military Wives
Here I Drempt I Was An Architect
Sons And Daughters
Red Right Ankle
A Cautionary Song
After The Bombs
The Decemberists: InterWeb | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr