The Decemberists at Radio City Music Hall – June 10th 2009

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For someone who consistently writes songs focusing on dark subject matter, Colin Meloy is a upbeat and at times whimsical performer.  Both his intensity and whimsy were on view last night when Alison and I saw the Decemberists at Radio City Music Hall.  

My understanding is that tickets for the concert, which Alison and I originally thought was too buttoned-down of an environment in which to truly enjoy the Decemberists, were offered at a flat rate regardless of location.  I appreciate this not only because it signals a commitment to fairness (the richest fan is not necessarily the most avid fan) but also because we ended up with fantastic location for a reasonable price.   On her own whim, Alison decided to look for tickets a week or two ago.  We ended up with two seats in the fifth official row (there seemed to be a VIP area in the orchestra pit) maybe fifteen feet off center on stage left.

The show was in two parts.  The first consisted of the band, with the addition of two performers – Becky Stark and Shara Worden, playing the entirety of the Hazards of Love album without even a break between songs.  The effect was dramatic.  The band was clearly focused, coming out on stage and beginning the album without an introduction.  This focus remained for the entire show.   If there wasn’t an instrument in hand there were efficient motions to the next instrument fo rth enext song.  The only break in pure focus, perhaps, came from Stark and Worden who never missed a beat, but so obviously enjoyed their characters in the album that occasionally an unscripted smile broke through.  Hardly a crime.

Radio City Music Hall and the size of it’s stage is enough to inspire awe on its own, and for the right performers and performances it can serve as a wonderful complement rather than an imposing figure.  It was perfect for the performance of the Hazards of Love.  The songs and story are large enough to fill the space so the audience can never think of losing focus.  The incredible height of the room was used to wonderful effect as the cross lighting on the stage would often create fifty foot silhouettes of the performers on the walls.  It was incredible. 

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Stark and Worden were both wonderful.  Stark played the character of Margaret and dressed in a virginal white robe. Her first feature was just amazing.  Not only did she look the part but her voice was pristine.   However, she danced in a calm manner but one which was unmistakably seductive.  Worden on the other hand, dressed in black from the waist up and silver tights had more of a manic element to her dancing in the role of the Forest Queen.  They melded in with the Decemberists wonderfully as they should have, bringing a similar intensity.

After the intermission, the second (and more whimsical) set consisted of the following:

  1. Crane Wife 3 
  2. July! July! –  I love this song.  A smart #2 as well.  Whether or not you know the words, it’s the simplest of choruses and everyone sings.
  3. Billy Liar 
  4. Sleepless (from Dark Was the Night)
  5. The Bachelor and the Bride 
  6. Daughter of Dracula – Meloy introduced this song by noting that most artists choose to perform their best material at Radio City.  He was going to break with that tradition by playing the worst song he ever wrote.  “I started it with a G major 7 and then, what’s worse is that I went to a C major 7.  In layman’s terms the douchiest of chord progressions.”  He only played a few lines from the song. 
  7.  O Valencia! 
  8. The Chimbley Sweep 
  9. Heart’s Crazy on You – Stark and Warden came back out for this song and just went to town on it.  Everyone was going nuts except for the two middle schoolers in front of us.  Too distant from the 70’s I suppose

Encore

  1. REM’s Peter Buck joined the band for the first song of the encore.  I don’t recall what it was. 
  2. Sons and Daughters – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  If every concert ended with a song for world peace it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

A few other notes:

At one point Meloy kept the song going and divided the audience by left, right, and balcony tiers and had us sing different parts. Feist did the same thing when I saw her at the Roseland Ballroom.  It’s a winner every time.

During one song when Meloy and Chris Funk engaged in a mock guitar duel, Meloy and Funk invited audience members on stage to take their places and Meloy then proceeded to launch himself off the stage and was climbing over the seats through the crowd.   The audience went wild for it.  Among other things I really appreciated that if he did it for us it showed that he wasn’t afraid of how the experience of being pawed at is, I’m sure, uncomfortable and if he did it for himself he was liberated enough to take the time out to experience that and see what the stage looked like with his band on it.

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