Words by Ann Svilar :: Images by Dave Vann

The Decemberists :: 10.19.06 :: The Warfield :: San Francisco, CA

The Decemberists :: 10.19.06 :: Warfield
The house lights drop, and we hear a voice before we hear music or see faces at The Warfield. The voice tells us to, "Be courteous... introduce yourself to your neighbor... look at the architecture and check for exit signs." My eyebrows raise; I think I've only been asked to check for exit signs while sitting on planes, or at a play - maybe Disneyland? I've also never seen The Warfield with such docile and orderly beer-lines, or waited for a show to begin next to a ten-year-old boy.

There is hype around The Decemberists, an indie-rock-pop, progressive folk band that has recently signed on and produced an album under a major label - The Crane Wife with Capitol Records. Now they are filling places like The Warfield. I have heard someone say that they are, "The Pink Floyd of indie rock." This is not going to be a typical show.

Colin Meloy :: 10.19.06 :: Warfield
As the backdrop falls and the lights rise, we see a curtain with an elaborate, interesting design, like the artwork on their website – there are Japanese huts, trees, and a crane. The entire band enters costumed in variations of black, except for their lead man, Colin Meloy - his suit is a pale hue.

Each person takes a position amongst the pretty red lights like they have been directed to do so, "You go stage-right - I'll go stage left." It becomes obvious that The Decemberists' live performance is not just a musical event but largely a theatrical one too.

These musicians, sometimes mock thespians are Colin Meloy (lead singer, songwriter, guitar), Chris Funk (guitar, pedal steel, violin, and many other instruments), Jenny Conlee (keys, accordion, organ, melodica), Nate Query (bass guitar, stand-up bass), and John Moen (drums, melodica). And the newest addition, Lisa Molinaro, is a supporting musician for The Crane Wife tour and is introduced early by Colin as being someone who can play more instruments than he can. This is true. It was awe-inspiring to witness how many instruments Lisa Molinaro touched in two hours. She became a highlight on many songs, with her comfortable stage presence and soothing back-up vocals. In fact, even though Colin Meloy is the obvious front man, each member had a moment to glow. The entire band played multiple instruments. At one point even the drummer joined Jenny Conlee for a dual keyboard display.

The Decemberists :: 10.19.06 :: Warfield
The Decemberists' show was somewhat of a one-set-wonder, opening with "The Crane Wife 3" and packing in sixteen songs before they were done just shy of 11:00 pm. Colin Meloy majored in Creative Writing in college, so it comes as no surprise that where The Decemberists shine is in their unique lyrical style. Their songs include words and names that don't exactly roll off the tongue, like "Arabesques," "parallax," "Sycorax," "Odalisque," and "bowsunbelle." But they somehow pull it off and make those words sound like they do belong over the melody.

Their songs are tales, with an old sailor or veteran kind of feel. The mood of the music is fit for a small basement bar on a dock somewhere, surrounded by cold frothy mugs and dark beer.

Molinaro & Meloy :: 10.19.06 :: Warfield
The Decemberists are a band that is focused on entertaining, with each member invested in each musical step and a high-energy Colin Meloy jumping around the stage stomping his feet, engaging the audience whenever he can. At one point during the middle of a song, he stopped singing and grabbed a kid's cell phone, then proceeded to call the kid's mom and sing to her through the receiver. The Decemberists also constantly encouraged the crowd to clap, stomp, and to sing along. It's endearing to see a band pay such close attention to their audience, but after a while the crowd engagement became a bit much. Early on, Colin led the audience in a group vocal warm-up where we had to repeatedly sing, "This is a wonderful show. This is a wonderful show." I felt like I was at summer camp, or that I had paid $25 to boost his ego.

The Decemberists :: 10.19.06 :: Warfield
Some highlights included an almost funky "The Perfect Crime No. 2," a sometimes ambient "The Island," lovely vocals during "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)," a lively "16 Military Wives," and a crowd-pleaser "O Valencia!" with catchy repetitive chord progressions and Colin drawing out the last note of most phrases - their signature sound.

Finally, Chris Funk and John Moen made their way to the middle of the crowd. Colin led them through a balancing act where John stood on Chris's back. The crowd cheered and the entire band re-entered to center-stage and all posed in various positions around Colin. The show was over. Can The Decemberists be coined "The Pink Floyd of indie rock?" No, they are nowhere near that profound. But they complement each other as musicians, and they are entertaining, great storytellers, and a spectacle that is worth repeating.

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[Published on: 11/1/06]

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jonathanleeder Thu 11/2/2006 08:54AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I saw these guys open for Beck and they really sucked. Jambase, if you're gonna cover non-jambands at least pick a talented band like EXIT CLOV.

watersbrad starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/2/2006 01:01PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Maybe the reviewer above witnessed a sub-par show. In my experience the Decemberists are a consistent live band, and one of the few bands outside of the jamband scene that I will travel to see. I'm even thinking about hitting up Amsterdam in Feb to catch some dates on the Decemberists Euro tour.

Anyway, just wanted to give a thumbs up from a fellow jamband junkie. This band helped me reconsider contemporary songwriting and studio albums (of which the majority pale by comparison). Your mileage may vary...

watersbrad starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/2/2006 01:03PM
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Doh! Just to clarify, I was referring to the other comment, not the reviewer (who did an excellent job). Carry on...

Andrew W. starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/2/2006 01:13PM
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Andrew W.

This band is one of my favorites out there... I think that if you listen and respect the music and stories they will be one of yours as well.


mcmanust Thu 11/2/2006 06:41PM
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I've seen them before and had a good time. It sometimes helps if you know the music. I'm going to see them tomorrow night at Hammerstein. I'm pretty excited. Their new stuff is a lot different than their previous albums and it should rock.

snappy starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/3/2006 03:57AM
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This is superb. I'm only now getting into them and this honest, thoughtful review helps color in their picture nicely.

shainhouse Fri 11/3/2006 11:38AM
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what is a non-jamband? what is a jamband? who cares jonathan?

All Loving Liberal White Guy Mon 11/6/2006 02:56PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

All Loving Liberal White Guy

what is a jamband that's not a jamband but kinda is and gets coverage on jambase? jambase is for all music people. if there is someone out there who plays something rightetous and innovative sounding, it'll always have a place here. when any musician and/or band gets up on stage and plays their instruments for a crowd of people, they are "jamming" no matter what they play and is is JAM base!

bigchris star Fri 11/10/2006 12:03PM
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I was at this Warfield show. Pink Floyd? hahahah, not even close. This is wimpy music to cut your wrists by. Boring, slow and poorly sung. I can see why the lead singer had to repeated yell out to the crowd for responses, they were too depressed to do anything else. Save your money and see a band with some balls and something to say, not these crybaby shoegazers.

mcmanust Sat 11/11/2006 03:07PM
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shoegazers? Wow, I don't think so. Listen to Slowdive and then listen to the Decemberists. They're not even close.

All Loving Liberal White Guy Mon 11/13/2006 11:12PM
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All Loving Liberal White Guy

calling the decemberists shoegazer is like calling air supply a metal band.

maverick6100 Tue 11/14/2006 04:35PM
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OVERRATED! I dont live in New York and dont go to NYU. I'm not trendy so i think these guys blow.

mrkrinkle6884 starstarstar Tue 11/14/2006 06:08PM
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I only own Picaresque Heart and it took me a coupel listen but I have grown to love it. They recently played the Tabernacle and I unfourtenetly(sp?) missed it.