November 13, 2006
The Decemberists filled the Riviera Theatre with the warm sounds of accordian and twelve string acoustic guitars on Saturday night and the sold-out Chicago audience ate it up. Preluding the band was a set of Scottish folk tunes from Alasdair Roberts (could they not get Laura Veirs?), which thankfully for the restless audience was over quickly. We listened to the entire production of Peter and the Wolf, a a welcome departure from the usual house music that the venue provides, and cheerful voice invited us to close our eyes and play the imagination game. By the time we had heard the sound of baying wolves and squinted to see form of six figures ambling toward you along the edge of the canyon wall, the band had entered in front of the backdrop of Japanese lotus flowers and old fishing boats.
The Decemberists jumped immediately into storytelling mode playing to lyrics such as “My name is Leslie Ann Levine” and “I am a writer, writer of fiction.” The band members are all multi-instrumentalists and they were each incredibly tight, whether playing organ, violin, or hurdy-gurdy, but during the whole show the spotlight never left Colin Meloy. With his pinstriped jacket and loose Regis Philbin style tie, he acted like the song conductor, invoking a mass-sing-a-long everytime he opened his mouth. By the time set highlight, Crane Wife 1 & 2 begins, Colin showed a huge flair for showmanship stumbling across the stage and raising the tear-shaped guitar high above his head as he strummed. Yankee Bayonet featured the most recent Decemberists addition, Lisa Molinaro who harmonized beautifully during the song.
Colin Meloy was very personal and humorous with the audience during the night telling tall tales of how John Cougar Mellencamp was almost born in Chicago but had to be flown to Alaska and teasing people on the side balconies who had come in late. At one point, on request the band improvised a few bars of The Clash’s “Waiting for the Clampdown” of which Meloy said “We’re going to regret doing that the rest of the tour.” As if the band didn’t already have the audience’s full attention they proceeded to play each of their three most popular songs (arguably), starting with the jaunty beat of “O Valencia” and continuing with the anthemic “July, July”, which was enlivened with John Moen’s accelerated drum beat. “Sixteen Military Wives” was next and if you’ve read any review of the show I’m sure you know all about the splitting of the crowd during the La-De-Dah part of the song. What could have seemed routine though, was spiced up by Colin Meloy’s wonderful conducting in which he seemed to stage a political debate with leering, fist waving, and plenty of rebuttals.
“The Island” in it’s three-part glory rocked the house and the progged-out organ solo was spotless. As the set came to a close Colin invited everyone standing backstage (which ended up being a lot of people) to join him on stage in singing the refrain to “Sons and Daughters.” Before the song began he made a few remarks about how proud he was about the results of the election day telling the Republicans in the crowd “better luck next time.” On that note, he led the entire theatre in singing “hear all the bombs fade away” and temporarily left the stage as the audience enthusiastically cheered for more.
Colin Meloy returned to do a solo performance of “Red Right Ankle” and after respectfully side-stepping requests to sing “The Mariner’s Revenge” (which they’ve retired for a little while) they launched into “A Cautionary Song.” What really made the song though, was the appearance of three of the Decemberists parading through the crowd with their percussion instruments. During a break in the song, the ban reinterpreted the final scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” with Colin narrating. They originally casted Lisa as the orc which she was hesitant to play and caused Colin to joke “but, that’s what we hired her for”. Eventually they finished their reinterpretation with some help from the audience and left the stage. Overall, I was entertained at this show as much as any I have ever been to. The Decemberists are truly something everyone needs to experience live.
Before you go, check out the Filter tour blog, which is following the band on each step of the tour through the eyes of various bloggers (myself included). Visit Perfect Porridge for the next review in the series. I have all my pictures from the show up at Pictures For Kids Who Can’t Read Good. Click here to see them.