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The Decemberists at the State Theater

12 Feb

State Theater, February 6th – by JMM

The Decemberists came to Minneapolis Sunday night, February 6th, providing many with a great excuse to not watch the football game. But, based on the slow arriving crowd, I’d say many folks caught as much of the game as possible before making their way to the State Theater for what I believe will be looked back on as one of the best concerts of the year.

As the band took the stage Colin Meloy held his guitar up high and kissed the neck of it, making me smile for the first of many times during the show. They opened with “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” from their 2002 full length debut, Castaways and Cutouts. You don’t normally see such a long, extended song right out of the gate. In fact, it looked more like the final song of a typical concert, complete with Colin collapsing to the ground at the midpoint, lying on his back still playing his guitar, and even teasing the instantly recognizable guitar intro to The ReplacementsCan’t Hardly Wait”.

The opening song was played with the stage only dimly lit with low red lights, and light smoke drifting continuously through the air. As the band got ready for their second number, guest fiddle player and vocalist Sara Watkins took the stage, to drummer John Moen’s left, and behind multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk. At this point, a silhouetted forest backdrop was revealed that would be there for the rest of the set. It was alternately lit with either blue, red or yellow light; and perfectly complemented the clean, natural, organic feel of their set on this evening.

Their new album has already been widely acclaimed by fans and critics alike, and everything that has been said about the album also applies to their show as well. Perfectly constructed songs, beautifully executed, and an exceptionally well selected set list that hit on all six of their major label releases. They took only a brief pause after the lengthy opener, just enough to jokingly mention the football game, before playing “Down By The Water”, the first single off The King Is Dead. It the song the most highlights the female vocalist, which was Gillian Welch on the recording; but Sara Watkins was excellent; I had hoped Welch would tour, but I was not dissatisfied in the least.

They continued with two more from the new album, “Calamity Song” and “Rise to Me”. The band went away from the new album for the next three songs; “July, July!”, “Won’t Want for Love”, and a particularly emotional version of “The Crane Wife 3”. They were now at the midpoint of their 14 song set. Colin’s stage hand was busy between every song bringing out new guitars for Colin, now also refilled his glass with more red wine, before beginning what turned out to be a very fast paced, energetic second half.

After “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” it appeared that the last of the football watchers were finally taking their seats, and some were compelled to yell out who won. This was greeted most with, “who cares?” from the audience, and a wide variety of fake score updates from the band between songs; in which the reported fake scores varied widely from -20 to +95.

By the time they got to “All Rise!”, the audience was really getting into the act, with a few even standing up and dancing; a movement that only increased when Jenny Conlee got to show off her accordion skills on “Rox In The Box”. The haunting “January Hymn” was next, the mood enhanced by a dark stage with only a single overhead spotlight on Colin; which combined with the forest backdrop, gave the feeling that Colin might be singing this alone under only the light of the moon.

It proved to be a beautiful setup for the final three songs as they charged to the end of the main set with, “The Infanta”, “16 Military Wives”, and “This Is Why We Fight”. At this point, the mainly still seated audience erupted into one of the strongest standing ovations I’ve seen at a theater show. The ovation continued until the band took the stage for the encore, and though the clapping stopped, no one sat down for the rest of the night. “Hazards of Love 4” opened the encore, and a rollicking rendition of “The Rake’s Song” followed to close this encore. Interestingly, their working set list on stage had them doing “Mariner’s Revenge” in this slot; but, I’m really glad they swapped in “Rake’s” at the last minute. It was something to behold. Every member of the band was pounding on a different type of drum, some in addition to their regular instrument(s) as well. A very powerful, positive performance – vastly contradicting its lyrical content.

Another loud, lengthy break filled with enthusiastic applause gave way to a one song second encore. And, so, the evening ended with the beautiful “June Hymn”. And, what a wonderful, near perfect evening it was.
= Openers Mountain Man likely won over some fans with their unique, a cappella style, engaging harmonies, and likable – if a little quirky – stage presence. And by “quirky” I mean stage banter that included these topics: licking your wrist to test for bad breath, eyebrow grooming, egg production in females during the embryonic stage, their thoughts on the halftime performance by BEP (“dank”), to how quiet the audience was (“quiet like mild salsa”), etc. They did not seem overwhelmed in the least, on only their second night of ten planned opening for The Decemberists over the next two weeks.

Set list:
California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade (Castaways and Cutouts)
Down by the Water (The King Is Dead)
Calamity Song (The King Is Dead)
Rise to Me (The King Is Dead)
July, July! (Castaways and Cutouts)
Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In The Taiga) (Hazards of Love)
The Crane Wife 3 (The Crane Wife)
Los Angeles, I’m Yours (Her Majesty the Decemberists)
All Arise! (The King Is Dead)
Rox in the Box (The King Is Dead)
January Hymn (The King Is Dead)
The Infanta (Picaresque)
16 Military Wives (Picaresque)
This Is Why We Fight (The King Is Dead)

The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned) (Hazards of Love)
The Rake’s Song (Hazards of Love)

June Hymn (The King is Dead)

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