Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Decemberists: A Concert Review

Last Thursday I attended a concert at the Center For The Arts on the campus of The University at Buffalo in Buffalo, NY.

On stage were The Decemberists, a Seattle based folk-rock quintet currently on their “A Short Fazed Hovel Tour”.

The group is playing in support of their fifth studio album, The Hazards of Love which was released in March of this year.

The group has been playing the album in its entirety for the first half of their shows. They are accompanied by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond who both play parts on the album.

Worden belts our powerfully soulful notes in her part of “The Queen” and Stark adds beautifully haunting parts as “Margaret” in the concept album’s performance.

The most impressive aspect is the smooth transitions between songs as the band members switch instruments.

Bassist Nate Query alternates between an electric bass and string bass throughout the show.

Guitarist Chris Funk is a jack of all trades. He plays everything from electric and pedal steel guitar to auxiliary percussion and bouzouki.

Jenny Conlee is much the same, alternating between accordion and often simultaneously playing her Hammond B-3 organ and synthesizer or Wurlitzer organ.

While seeing The Hazards of Love in full was a great experience, after an intermission the band came back out to play a normal set which I was really looking forward to.

Front man Colin Meloy (who is now battling Rivers Cuomo for my favorite rock star…and I think Rivers might be losing) had some truly hilarious things to say to the crowd.

At one point he said, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” which I later found out is actually a grammatically correct sentence first used by William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at UB, in 1972.

Before playing what Meloy claimed was, “…the worst song I ever wrote” he mused about how when he wrote it the quill pen he uses for all his writing fell and snuffed out his candle, consequently knocking over his glass of absinthe.

It was a truly enjoyable story he told, in which God cried a single tear because of how terrible the song was. They then played a short ditty called “Dracula’s Daughter” before launching into fan-favorite “O Valencia”.

The set itself was filled with plenty of gems spanning the group’s career.

Opener “The Sporting Life” off 2005’s Picaresque set an upbeat tone for the second set. The group meandered through material off all but one of their releases and played two new songs, “Down By The Water” and “Summer Comes To Springville” which Meloy debuted solo acoustic to lead off the encore.

Esteemed pundit Stephen Colbert once referred to The Decemberists as, “hyper-literate prog rock”.

It’s a fitting description. The band’s penchant for grandiloquence, unusual combinations of instruments and often whimsical subject matter make for a very unique catalog.

If you have the chance to see them live I’d encourage you to do so, you won’t be disappointed. Of course if they aren’t coming to a city near you, check out some of their albums starting with The Hazards of Love.

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