Sunday, February 29, 2004

Take it from an old music fan, there's nothing like seeing your favorite band. I can remember everything about when I saw TOOL in 1996. Radiohead in 2001. Mogwai, and The Flaming Lips in 2003. (It's nice to have a lot of favorite bands; trust me on that one, too.) These are the types of shows you look forward to months in advance, wake up early to buy tickets for, drive (or fly) far away to see. And with good reason! These are Life - with a capital L - nights. Memorable.

So, I saw The Decemberists. I've enjoyed their very Americana-brand of indie rock for awhile now, been one of my most enjoyable bands to obsessively listen too. But, through design or chance (lack of money or tickets, etc.), I missed a number of their shows here in the city. They, thankfully, tour a lot and I finally got a chance to see them. But. I was weary. I was very, very worried something would happen that would somehow force me to miss the show.

(Expositionary section warning: A few months ago, I went to see a show at the same exact venue, The Great American Music Hall. Just as the band we had come to see started, my friend passed out. From the height, the pressure of the people, whatever. Another a few shows over the last month or so were taken from me because of those terrible "sold out" signs.)

You can imagine, I was concerned. Maybe something (someone?) was working against me. I worried and worried, a nervous (and stoned) wreck on the train. I always fear terrorist attacks in the subway, what about you?

Anyway. We got to the show. We missed the two opening acts, sorry local bands, I'd rather spend my time listening to the Decemberists back in my room, and arrived just in time to see Earlimart rock the house with their own semi-unique brand of California indie rock, with help on second guitar from Jim Fairchild of Grandaddy (hey, what's up, dude! you rock, too.) They played some new songs, probably for the next album. Sounded great. Little more mature. They're a fun band to see live. They have a simple charm and grace. Highlights of their show was the always-a-highlight sad beauty of "The Movies," and a cover of a song by a band called FUCK.

Then, without much delay, here come the Decemberists. But, first! A Russian marching anthem, honorable and very red-sounding (seriously). A great introduction to a whimsical band fond of puns. They started with the first song I ever heard by them, "Leslie Anne Levine", the frightening tale of a ghost-baby. Next up was the second track off the amazing Her Majesty, "Billy Liar." I love this song, and want to dress up as Billy Liar for Halloween next year. The surprising "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground" followed, paving the way for future long songs. If I had one minor criticism, I miss the Her Majesty String Quartet that enriched their latest album on those songs. I completely understand that they can't tour with four extra people for an odd number of songs per night, but still... it would be cool.

A combo of upbeat songs up next. "July, July" and "The Chimbley Sweep," both with enough original live flourishes to extend the songs and make a real party of it. The venue was crowded, hundreds of people all squished together in one large, but gorgeous, room. It was great to feel the energy of a large crowd of fans. Though there were of course the hundred or so people who decided to talk throughout most of the show. Some people near me as well, who left (thank God.) I do NOT understand people who come to shows and talk, especially during the main act. It's the same lack of respects that plagues urban movie theater. Jesus christ, America, stop watching South Park and learn some fucking manners. Please. (see? it's not hard.) (apologies. I did get a little upset last night. Although I didn't yell at anybody; but I wanted too.)

Next up, to truly nail in the awesomness, some California songs, "Grace Cathedral Hill," a must for any San Francisco show, and "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," a rousing success. "The Solidering Life," Colin's ode to homosexuality in the military, dedicated to all the "brave people who married in San Francisco." (Good call. Fuck the man, etc.)

And, finally, The Tain. Colin said, "This is the first time we're going to try this," and my heart leaped. Obviously, I wished for The Tain but did, not at all, think they'd play this massive, very new, song. But they did. And perfectly. I can't convey how much of a musical achievement that is. They switched instruments and sometimes seats between parts. The crowd didn't understand the length of the piece and clapped a lot, but it was cool. It was eye-openingly gorgeous. A show-stopper, literally.

Encore was short, but sweet. The melancholy "Red Right Ankle" and then the enormous "I Was Meant for the Stage." An inspiring, moving song if ever one was written.

Everyone mostly talks about Colin Meloy when talking about The Decemberists and with good reason. His charming and idiosyncratic lyrics define the band. His leadership and presence is evident in every note. But, seeing them live, and listening closely to their album, you can't help but appreciate the supporting players: The eccentric drummer, Rachel Blumberg, the wild, brilliant, accordion player, Jenny Conlee, the multi-instrumentalist Nate Query, playing upright bass like I've never heard, and the largely stoic but extremely talented guitarist, Chris Funk. If Colin Meloy is the puppet master, the music the puppet, then they are the strings. They make it happen. And I love 'em for it. (Best picture of the crew.)

Great show. I bought a T-shirt.


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