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The Decemberists @ Kool Haus — Good Any Month Of The Year

Friday, November 10, 2006

This show was on Monday, but I’ve been having computer problems so I haven’t had a chance to get to this review until now. My apologies.

I only started listening in earnest to The Decemberists recently — recently, as in, when I found out I was going to this show. I realized I needed to bone up on their catalogue, and so have been playing Picaresque and The Crane Wife nearly non-stop for the last month; this new-found familiarity had me totally primed for what was my third show at Kool Haus in a month, and I was not at all disappointed.

I completely missed the opening act, so don’t be expecting any insight on Alasdair Roberts.

Tried to order a Black Russian at the bar and was told they don’t offer it, even though I had one the last time I was there.

The crowd was massive — much bigger than for either the New Pornographers or DJ Shadow — which surprised me; I had thought the Decemberists had a smallish cult following at best, but if it is a cult, they sure are dedicated because they turned up in numbers. Things started off somewhat pedestrianly, and it seemed to give credence to the general feeling among fans (but not the critics) that The Crane Wife is a bit of a letdown after the gloriousness of Picaresque; to wit, one ‘wit’ at the back of the crowd shouted out something very unflattering during a moment of banter, which didn’t trip up the band, but seemed to rile up the crowd a little bit. It was actually after this, during a raucous rendition of The Perfect Crime #2, that the show really took off.

I’m not of a fan of being told to do something at a show — as in, when the band starts extolling the crowd to clap, or shout something, or sing along — I find it rather patronizing; but when Colin Meloy instructed us to form three circles for the purposes of a dance contest, the majority of the largely teen and recently-post-teen audience were happy to oblige, as they also were when cajoled into singing the ‘La Di Da Di Da Di Da Di Da Di Da’s’ during 16 Military Wives. There were even moments of <gasp!> girls being held aloft of the shoulders of their boyfriends (for a Toronto show, this is extraordinary).

Needless to say, the crowd was totally into it and the band responded in fine form, playing a generous helping of songs from Crane Wife and Picaresque, with only one or two older songs. They took a very rocking approach to Yankee Bayonet, O Valencia and When The War Came, which was surprising but welcome, but then they also did a marvelous job of slowing it down while still holding our attention when it came to the longer ballads The Island and The Crane Wife 1 & 2. There was even a moment near the end of the show when they went off into a Doors-like, screeching improv for ten minutes or so.

All in all I have to say that they are one of the more accomplished and polished live acts I’ve seen in a while, adding a sense of drama to the proceedings which is often lacking from other bands’ repertoires (of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise given the kind of music they play). I recommend seeing them live if you ever get the chance.

And, despite what I said earlier about the supposed failings of The Crane Wife, I’ve come around the more I’ve listened to it — it’s a marvelous album that I just can’t get out of my head; it only takes a while to get used to it since it’s more straight-ahead then what you would expect.

So, The Decemberists are my pick for ‘Band You Must Listen To If You Haven’t Done So Already.’ Do it now at MySpace.

Photo Credit: Sam Javanrouh – Daily Dose Of Imagery 03971semaj
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