Friday, April 27, 2007

hear all the bombs, they fade away

In general, San Francisco is a good town to catch national and international touring bands, but if you're planning a visit and want to guarantee the maximum number of concerts possible, you should avail yourself of two prime windows of opportunity: Noise Pop and the weeks buttressing either side of the Coachella Festival. First up: the Decemberists.

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007: Before I become an avid concertgoer (i.e., got a car and made it my mission to stalk see lots of bands), any group that I caught on more than four occasions had to be one of my absolute, tip-top favorites. Oh, how times have changed. Still, every now and then, it surprises me when I crunch the numbers and realize that I'm pushing the double digits for appearances with certain musicians. Case in point: the Decemberists.

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007

Certainly, I like the Decemberists, especially their shows. Unless you're a cold-hearted curmudgeon, it's hard to resist their affability and rapport with the audience. The thing is, I'm nowhere as big a fan as the numbers would suggest, and I feel like a fraud next to the truly devoted souls, especially the ones mouthing along to every lyric. I know, I know--what a non-issue! But when you're used to being the dorky fangirl who wants to hear obscure covers and b-sides, it's a weird position to be in.

Apparently, this was not reason enough to keep me away, though in a departure from usual practices, I opted to attend only one of the Decemberists' two shows in town (the second night, naturally). In return, I was rewarded with yet another fun, engaging gig by a band who clearly knows how to treat their audience.

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007In the surprise department, I'd have to nominate "The Island," which I don't particularly like on the album. Live, though, the song's ambitious arc worked better, starting out somewhere in the territory of "Come Together," then veering toward a grand organ solo that brought to mind "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," before the band regrouped to take the form of a chamber quartet backing Colin. I had been dismissive of "The Perfect Crime No. 2" as well, but in person, I read it as an homage to the Talking Heads, and they carried it off a lot more convincingly than on the record.

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007Oh yeah, another surprise: Colin calling me out for refusing to play along with his instructions for a specific hand movement (pictured left). He was so engaged with the fans upfront that I assumed he wasn't paying attention to us in the next tier. Wrong! Of course, I had to give in under his watchful eye and direct admonishment. Fortunately, he also noticed when I joined the chorus for the final refrain of "Sons and Daughters," so the transgression may have been forgiven. (He doesn't need to know I'm a sucker for a singalong.)

I expected more of an emphasis on The Crane Wife, but overall, we got a decent sampling, including a duet with Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond on "Yankee Bayonet" (which Trish was surprised to learn was about a dead soldier). The upshot: The rest of the setlist comprised old favorites, such as "The Bachelor and the Bride," "July, July," and "Shiny." Denise informed us that other classics, such as "Grace Cathedral Hill" and "The Chimbley Sweep," showed up the first night.

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007The band deserves some credit in at least one other category. Many groups, as they gain fans and play bigger venues, end up relying on a script and churning out a generic show. Not so here, at least from what I could tell.

Colin has definitely grown into his role as frontman (stalking the rim of the stage, offering his guitar to the front row, taking pictures of the band with a fan's cell phone, responding to audience banter, and perching at the edge of the stage), while the entire band has retained its looseness and sense of humor. Nate Query turned in 10 push-ups, John Moen (my favorite!) almost got a cover of Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" started, Jenny Conlee fell for the well-worn concert trick of returning from the encore first while the rest of the band waited backstage and let her squirm in front of the expectant audience, and Chris Funk donned an ill-fitting and not at all convincing tarp to play the role of the whale for "The Mariner's Revenge Song."

The Decemberists, the Warfield, April 26, 2007I have to admit I was prepared to pan this show before I even got there, but I can not tell a lie: It was a blast. Even the age factor didn't make a dent, as a lot of older fans (not just parents) came out for the gig. My venue snobbery may prevent me from seeing the Decemberists ever again, but tonight, they were just the ticket.

An odd event happened before the show tonight: A Town Car pulled up in front of the Warfield, the driver exchanged some words with the Warfield staff, and from the car emerged John Lithgow for a few moments. They got back in the car, and we assumed that they had the wrong address. After I told Maudie the story, she suggested that maybe they meant to take in the production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf instead. Sure, why not, right?

But shortly into the opening set by My Brightest Diamond, we noticed Mr. Lithgow on the main floor. As it happened, his son was the bass player in the band, and he was there as a proud father, snapping pictures. As for My Brightest Diamond, they seemed an odd match for the Decemberists. They showed no signs of the folksy songcraft the Decemberists are known for; in fact, they were balls-out rocking and rather abrasive. The singer's voice reminded me of Nina Hagen's, though their Nina Simone cover came off nicely.

See also:
» a writer, a writer of fictions
» down the hyde street pier
» have you tasted the finest of trout

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