Live Review: The Decemberists

31 March 2016 | 1:27 pm | Matt MacMaster

"Their debut concert at the House was a tribute to both sides of that coin, thankfully leaning towards their roles as raconteurs."

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The Decemberists are at their peak when they're telling a story. Colin Meloy's vivid tragedies are full of eccentric characters that are invariably doomed, and it's horribly enjoyable following them into the maws of death, especially when they do it with such style and dignity. The band are equally adept at creating images and stories of their own through creative and joyful instrumentation, and when they're all in sync they hum beautifully. When they're not, and they're just pushing out polite folk-rock ditties to fill in time, they begin to sink, like some of their protagonists, into the depths of banality and irrelevancy. Their debut concert at the House was a tribute to both sides of that coin, thankfully leaning towards their roles as raconteurs and keeping things afloat. The giant prop whale that ate the band at the end helped as well.

The stage was adorned with a large backdrop with cut-out panels depicting dancing women with swords, almost Grecian. Lights pored through onto the band giving the event an appropriate theatricality. The Singer Addresses His Audience (aptly) opened, a dull effort from their latest record What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World (making up the bulk of the first set). It was a soft start that allowed the band to get settled but failed to ignite any atmosphere. An aborted attempt at Rox In The Box was a tease, leading to a full-throated rendition second go round. Here was what we wanted! A tale of swarthy men fighting cruel overseers in some godless mine in the mountains! Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect was weaved neatly together with Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, stretching out into a haunting few minutes that left us swooning. 16 Military Wives and O, Valencia! closed the set triumphantly, leaving room for two more.

The Hazards Of Love bulked out the first encore, and it was the strongest set of the night. The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned) is a moving tale of a couple marrying on the deck of a sinking ship, and Meloy suddenly got lost in its last lines, becoming the two lovers as they succumb to the brackish abyss. It was breathtaking.

Encore two brought The Mariner's Revenge Song, a devilish pantomime told from the belly of a whale. The aforementioned beast devoured the band while the audience screamed in delight. It was tempered by Dear Avery, a pretty song but not the best to finish on.

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