The Decemberists | 05.20.09 | Oakland

Words by: Lindsay Colip | Images by: Steven Walter

The Decemberists :: 05.20.09 :: Fox Theater :: Oakland, CA

The Decemberists :: 05.20.09 :: Oakland
It's quite possible that The Decemberists are from the future... or maybe from the distant past. At any rate, they certainly don't seem like they come from this day and age. I'm not saying they're creating never heard before, mind blowing, ear tickling music like Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear (which 100-percent is music from the future) but their latest album, The Hazards Of Love (released March 24 on Capitol), is completely unique to anything being released right now. This record is meant to be heard and performed from front-to-back in its entirety, not because it sounds cooler that way but because it's a chronological story. Lyrically, it's a dark and disturbing folk tale about a woman named Margaret who encounters love, murder, lust, shape-shifting forest creatures, jealous queens and cold-blooded rakes. As for the ears, think hard rock indie folk pop. It's a big album and from talking with fans, it's one that might take some time to wrap your head around. But, after a few spins and especially after seeing the live performance, it becomes clear that this was a genius call on singer-songwriter Colin Meloy's part.

The Decemberists played to a sold out house at the stunning Fox Theater. I'm going to go ahead and make a bold statement and say that this might end up being the most impressive show I see this year. The first set was "The Hazards of Love: The Musical." They literally came out and bled that record start to finish. The lighting was perfectly theatrical, the wardrobe choices were in sync with the album's characters, and even the movement of the musicians onstage was well played. I won't be surprised if I see this reenacted on Broadway next year - it's that good. Even if you don't particularly like the music itself, the performance is worth the price of admission.

Colin Meloy :: 05.20.09
If you've been living under a rock and don't know about these guys, here's the quick wrap up: The Decemberists come from Portland, Oregon and so far have released five full length albums, teaming up with Capital Records on the last two. The quintet is singer-songwriter Colin Meloy, Chris Funk (guitar, multi-instrumentalist), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keys), Nate Query (bass guitar, string bass) and John Moen (drums, back vocals, melodica). On this "A Short Fazed Hovel" tour, they've added Becky Start (Lavender Diamond) to voice Margaret and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) to voice the jealous Forest Queen.

The Fox crowd knew they were seeing something special. With only a few stops on this tour, this might be the only time we hear any of these songs played live. I can't imagine hearing any of the Hazards of Love songs alone without their supporting songs surrounding them. It flowed so perfectly as a unit that I think it might actually do the songs an injustice to play them solo. If this turns out to be the case, I have to urge fans to go see this tour, especially if they love this album, or just love musicals. And what other bands are really doing this kind of full album storytelling? My friends mentioned The Streets as an example, and I suppose they're right, but this doesn't feel like The Streets. It feels like The Who's Tommy. Actually, it feels like Brothers Grimm meets Phantom of the Opera. Nonetheless, it's impressive and it's inspiring.

The second set was just as rewarding and a lot more casual. Meloy narrated quite a bit, which was a nice change from the first set. They also seemed to relax a little, taking off their jackets and playing in shirts and suspenders. The band played mostly songs off The Crane Wife, including "Sons and Daughters" and "The Crane Wife 3," as well as some more recent songs such as "The Raincoat Song" and "Sleepless" off the Dark Is The Night compilation.

Near the very end, Funk, Moen, Worden and Start did a strange Oregon Trail reenactment in the crowd (dysentery deaths and all), while Meloy, Conlee and Query scored it from the stage. They ended the night by having the crowd sing a line from "Sons and Daughters" - "here all the bombs fade away..." - over and over, balcony to front row. With 2,800 people singing together, it was a chill-producing moment. The Decemberists have brought music back to more of a performing art as opposed to a monetarily driven product and I couldn't be more grateful. Don't miss this show.

The Decemberists are on tour now, dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of The Decemberists in Oakland...


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