Friday, March 23, 2007

If You Do it in Numbers They Can't Stop All of You

Decemberists @ Loew's Theatre, Journal Sqaure, JC, NJ

I think we've established on here quite a few times that I am a bit selfish. It's not that I am self-absorbed to the point that I am inconsiderate of others, or self-centered to the point that I think everything should always be about me. It's just that I know what I like/enjoy and what I think is worthy of my time, and everything else can pretty much be damned. That said, it's very possible that the following opinions are held by me and me, only. It's possible that the way I am feeling this morning--after seeing the Decemberists (one of MY favorite bands) at Loew's Theatre (in MY hometown of Jersey City) with MY wife and MY friends--is a feeling only I could have. It's quite possible many left last night's show unimpressed (I'm not sure how) or at least feeling melancholy about what they'd just seen. That's fine. They are probably people I wouldn't care to associate with anyway. So here's the requisite "blog disclaimer": this review of last night's show reflects my biased and uninformed opinion. I don't have a Pitchfork degree in what makes an awesome show. Secondly, I am going to butcher this setlist, so if someone who is in the know stumbles across this here blog and has a more correct version, feel free to post. Alas:

I'm not sure what the fascination is among music writers, fans, and DJs to try to annoint the Next Bob Dylan. Within the last year alone I have heard references to the following musicians as "the next Dylan": Connor Oberst, a bit premature, it seemed; Ben Gibbard, this DJ having presumably been on Ludes; M Ward, which I can "kinda" see; Mason Jennings, enjoyable enough, but...please. Surprisingly enough Colin Meloy's name has never come up that I have heard, which leads me to one question and one exclamation: "Wherefor?" and "Thank god!" Don't get me wrong. I love Dylan and if we insist on crowning a "next (blank)" for every great artist of our idyllic sentiments, then Meloy's as good a victim as any. He covers the basics: he's more of a troubador/poet than any of those other candidates; he's political without beating you over the head with it; he's a jewish kid from Minnesota...err, scrap that. But you get the point. Still, who wants Colin Meloy to be our generation's Bob Dylan when he can be our generation's Colin friggin' Meloy?! Plus, for as much as I loved the Band, they were merely a backup (albeit an excellent one) to Dylan for a short few years. Meloy's the front man, sure, but this is a well-rounded band. Point blank (and without a shred of hyperbole) the Decemberists are the best live band I have EVER seen. Chris Funk is a master of every stringed instrument one can imagine, including a "Herty-Gurty" whatever that is. Jenny Conlee is queen of anything with keys from accordion to keyboard to organ. Nate Query more than holds his own on bass (standup and elec.) plus he looks like he stepped straight out of a J Crew Catalog. Homeboy was dapper and quite the looker. John Moen, drummer, may look like he should be teaching Ethics at some stodgy college (Middlebury, perhaps) but he too can rock, and had quite a sense of humor (in that corny old-guy kinda way.) So, anyway, the band is friggin' good. Like the best of this generation good. I don't need to convince you. Either you agree or you don't. On to the show!

We admittedly missed the opening act, somewhat due to schedule, and somewhat by choice (we could have rushed and caught most of it, or had a beer and some pizza in my living room.) Obviously, we chose the latter. So we walked in, literally RIGHT as the bassline for "The Island/Come & See/You'll Not Feel the Drowning" began to drench the audience in a beautiful (in need of some loving care) old theatre. Finding our seats (second row!) we settled in. It was a bit odd to sit at a show (the organizers at the Loew's strictly enforce this policy, which kinda stinks but actually worked for the "theatrical elements" of the set.) Following a nearly flawless (music-wise) performance of that long opener, which really showed off the theatre's acoustics, Colin made a little banter with the audience. Why don't more bands do this? I have heard the bitching about "I come to see music, not to hear them crack cheezy jokes or shout 'Hello Jersey City!' or whatever." I wholeheartedly disagree. If the music is all you care about stay at home with the album. The playfulness between bandmembers and between band and audience is what makes it FUN!

After referring to Jersey City as the real NJ and Hoboken (where they'd previously played at Maxwells) as, well, Hoboken, they broke into "Yankee Bayonet" with the Shara from My Brightest Diamond (opener) singing Laura Viers' part serviceably. It's not my favorite song, but it played well. I didnt have a pen so the middle of the set is murky in terms of order, but I particularly recall "Crane Wife 1&2" (excellent) "We Both Go Down together" (one of my favs) and Summersong (beautiful.) Giving us a glimmer into what inspired the Crane Wife, and what seemingly inspired the set, itself, Colin introduced "We Both Go Down Together," by saying, "And here's another song about senseless violence." On a more playful note, after referencing our beloved PATH train they blasted through "The Perfect Crime No. 2" (danceable even prone in a chair) "O! Valencia" (a real crowd pleaser) then told, what Colin called, "a story to take home and put under your pillows and give you really weird dreams" ("Shankill Butchers.") Colin wasn't the only one in a playful mood, introducing "Military Wives" (another personal fave) Jenny teased, "here comes the rock!" It was in fact enough rock to "rock (colin's) shoelaces untied" for the second time of the night.

You know when you are absolutely LOVING a show, and at a certain point you get that "shit man, this has to end kind of soon" feeling? Well, that followed "Military Wives," for me especially since Colin extended the song a good 3-4 minutes to engage the audience in sing alongs for the "La de da de da" part (see, audience participation: dorky, sure, but friggin' fun! As, too, were the handclaps.) Fortunately, my fears were a bit premature. After that we were treated to (I think it was after)Grace Cathedral Hill (beautiful and slow) and The Infanta (effin' rocked to the point where I was very tempted to break that "no dance" rule.) For the last song of the set they pulled out oldie but goodie "Mariner's Revenge Song" and inspired some massive audience participation, calling for us to scream at the top of our lungs as the heroes in the song are swallowed once again by a whale. The audience screamed loudly like kids on a playground while a huge puppet whale (think Chinese New Year gone wrong) circled the stage, and the band belted out their last notes. Perfect ending for the set.

As the crowd fiended for an encore I turned to my wife, literally wiping sweat from my brow (remember, we were sitting) and sighed, "The absolute only thing that could make this show any better than it was, is if they had played "Eli the Barrow Boy" or if they Encore with "Sons and Daughters." So what do they do? March back on and play "Eli the Barrow Boy" AND "Sons and Daughters." As the first notes of "Sons and Daughters" fell behind Meloy's voice, "When we arrive..." I had that spine-chilling feeling of bliss that concerts RARELY give me anymore. I didn't think it was possible to feel any better until, leading up to the final chorus line, Meloy urged the audience, "This next line really doesnt work unless all of us sing it, and if you take one thing home from this show, it should be this next line, and you should take it with you on the PATH, or in the car ride home, it goes 'Hear all the bombs fade away!'" And reminiscent of my family singing along to Alice's Restaurant each thanksgiving at Arlo Guthrie's urging ("you people think you're gonna end a war singing that soft?") the chant started quietly, the audience unsure of itself, growing momentum at Meloy and the bandmember's urgency, until blowing up into a standing chant, people clapping along, the entire audience on our feet (damn the rules) screaming, "Hear all the bombs fade away! Hear all the bombs fade away!" for a solid 90 seconds. Look, man, I don't know if music can change the world. But for those 90 seconds--maybe even for that entire show--it sure felt like it could. Dylan at his best always made me believe he was changing music. But this was a different feeling, entirely.

Did I have any complaints? Sure: while I am a fan of audience participation when it is encouraged, I really don't need to know that should Colin Meloy ever come down with strep, dude behind me can easily take over as front man because he knows every friggin' lyric to every friggin' song, and wanted everyone else to know that he knew them. Look man, I love the band too. I holler along to Engine Driver when I am alone in traffic. I dont do it when I am in the audience and the guy who sings the song for a living is three rows in front of me. Also I missed the first half of the UCLA game. Not that it mattered, those jerks at CBS had me programmed to watch OSU/Tennessee anyway. Oh well, guess I can't nitpick too much. I'm not that selfish.

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At 1:11 PM, Blogger jake said...

Sounds like an amazing show.

I too get highly annoyed by "audience member who sings loudly along to every song" guy. It's a fucking indie rock show, no one needs to measure the size of their dicks.

Anyways, the Decemberists are on my short list of "bands i'll pay any amount to see" along with Modest Mouse, The White Stripes and a few others. Modest Mouse tested me on this, charging 32 dollars (32!) for their show in April, but i'm going.

M.M.'s new album is pretty good, in my opinion. You should check it out if you haven't already.

At 4:31 PM, Blogger g.m.s. said...

Next time I'll not bring my tape-measurer then.

Yeah, my last three trips to the record store have gone something like this: pick up new Modest Mouse CD, pick up new Arcade Fire CD; walk around a bit "just to see what else there is"; find two other used and cheaply priced CDs that I really want; get the used CDs instead. Next time I will just pick up the new MM and Arcade Fire and walk the eff out.


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