The Decemberists kicked off The Rout Of The Patagons 2006 tour in their hometown of Portland, Oregon, Tuesday night before a sold out audience at the Crystal Ballroom. This was the eighth time that I had seen The Decemberists, having caught their dazzling live shows in Chicago, Seattle, and now Portland. New to the team was Lisa Mollinaro, provider of backing vocals and over ten thousand other instruments, including violin, guitar, banjo, xylophone, and egg shaker... like Bugs Bunny in the cartoon when he played every baseball position. The drive from Seattle to Portland was three hours long, both nights were sold ass out, and all heads wished to be enchanted by the whimsical soliloquies of Colin Meloy and his merry band of Decemberists.
The two-hour long set was ignited by the first two tracks on the band's major label debut, The Crane Wife, released earlier this month on Capitol Records. "The Crane Wife" and "The Island: Come & See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel The Drowning" clocked in at around 22 minutes. That move is, dare I say, "ballsy" at best, to knock out not only new dishes to a starving audience, but slowly spoon feed it to them over a 22 minute serving.
Once the new material had been rolled out, the dapper dressed crew reached back to their second full length, Her Majesty The Decemberists, for "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," the brutal bashing of the smog filled, Hollywood phony city of angels. Our audience was comprised on many young faces, most of which were never aloud in at the 21+ clubs that I am used to seeing The Decemberists in (whatever city that may be.) But with a major label signing comes new territory, more radio support, pricier tickets, and fresh ears of all ages.
For the next couple of tunes the band plucked delightful chords from Her Majesty as well as their last album on Kill Rock Stars, Picaresque. "We Both Go Down Together," from Picaresque, transitioned nicely back to Her Majesty for "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground," then back to Picaresqu for "Engine Driver."
At some point a crowdie tossed up a voodoo doll of Meloy, complete with coke bottle specks and all. "Here is a song about some gangland drama called "O' Valencia," Meloy said, decked in dark grey suit, black shirt, with red tie. The entire band seemed to have raided the wardrobe of Carnivale', or some other 1930s misfit sideshow.
With blood red lights illuminating the stage from a number of hot gels and Chinese lanterns dangling from the ceiling, the mood turned eerie and cold, worried hush suffocated the crowd, as Meloy quietly strummed his way into "Shankill Butchers," a number about a gang of cleaver wielding psychos.
The highlight of the evening was "Song For Myla Goldberg," which was so stripped down to the core that it felt like the victim of Extreme Makeover or Pimp My Song. I truly hope they record this brilliant version of an already wonderful song for some keepsake b-side. The ordinarily upbeat ballad, complete with tongue twisting lyrics "I know New York, I need New York, I know, I need unique New York," felt like a heavy toke on Uncle Carla's double barrel water bong, it was that subdued.
For their tenth song of the set the band pulled something out that has never appeared on a record, which placed guitarist Chris Funk and organist Jenny Conlee on the keys together for what could be a creepy soundtrack to a Tim Burton film called "Cut Him Up Boy," or something like that. Much different than "Shankill Butchers," leaving Meloy unarmed without a guitar, allowing him to wrangle his entire body into motions like a Baptist preacher, pointing, gesturing, selling his way through another chilling tune about someone being murdered near a river.
Life pumped back into the subdued set with another cut from The Crane Wife, "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)," before going way back to their first full length, Castaways And Cutouts, for "Odalisque," about a Turkish prostitute. This could have been the first time that I ever saw Meloy strum an electric guitar that was neither brown nor acoustic, and the results were not too charming. It felt like years since the band performed this song live, which in hindsight, could have been omitted from the set list. Nails on a chalkboard, cat tail under rocking chair, old man snore.
After bantering with the young kiddos in the crowd, an apparent turf war between high schools broke out to declare once and for all, which Portland school the best dancers belonged to. Such in town jokes flew right over my out of mind head. Some dude asks me "Do you like NOFX or are you just wearing their hoodie?" A retarded looking stands next to me, smelling like three week old poop and swooshes her long hair right into my agitated face.
For their second visit to Castaways And Cutouts, The Decemberists dusted off "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect," which I hadn't heard since the time I watched the CBS show How I Met Your Mother a few weeks back. It made me as happy tonight as it did to see the major label ink dry and begin to pay off while watching "Monday's #1 hit tv comedy." Thanks publishing!
With long, I mean long songs in the band's lengthy audio vault of four albums and two EPs, Meloy decided to lead the tiring audience in some mid-show Calisthenics. The packed crowd slowly crouched down then back up, gently taking one step left before moving right back into place, and so on. The blood that had sat still for nearly an hour and a half, had finally began to pump once more. Take that Presidential fitness award!
"The Perfect Crime #2" was yet another shot fired from The Crane Wife, which featured battling duet with Meloy and Lisa Mollinaro, the new cutie, who really shined as the show's all star performer. What can't she do, I remember thinking. I noticed that she appeared so very late in the process that her sweet mug can't be found on any of the promotional stickers that I snatched from Everyday Music, across the street from the Crystal Ballroom, before the gig.
The set closed with the peppy "16 Military Wives" which contains the timely chant "cause America does if America says its so." Show stopped at 11:38 p.m. only to pick back up and lay down the final two tracks on the new album, "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," and the montage sing-a-long "Sons And Daughters."
Speaking as a die hard Decemberists stalker, I mean groupie, well let's just say fanatic, I would chalk this performance up to being a fun, loose, first night of a giant north American tour in support of a gorgeous new, albeit long, major label debut recording.
The band will tour these United States through November, stopping at the Paramount Theater in Seattle America on November 17 and taking time off for the holidays before embarking on a full blown European tour in 2007.
The longer songs, some clocking in at close to twelve minutes, were performed exceptionally well by the whole team. There were a few moments that didn't pack as big of a punch as I'm sure we all wanted, but hopefully tomorrow night when I return to the Crystal Ballroom for the second show of the tour, I will be knocked out cold with the rest of The Decemberists worshipers.
"The Crane Wife 3"
"The Island: Come & See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel The Drowning"
"Los Angeles, I'm Yours"
"We Both Go Down Together"
"The Gymnast, High Above The Ground"
"Song For Myla Goldberg"
"Cut Him Up"
"Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)"
"Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect"
"The Perfect Crime #2"
"16 Military Wives"
"The Crane Wife 1 & 2"
"Sons And Daughters"
By Jason Anfinsen
Jason Anfinsen was born in West Palm Beach Florida 1977. He is a professional noisemaker who has created weirdo kkkomedy for the past decade on stage, radio, and in print. He has performed improvisation around the world at comedy festivals and theaters in London, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Toronto, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle. Jason is a contributing writer for The Tripwire, Redefine Magazine, documentarian for the BellEvUe mENtal HosPitAL series, and author of the book Stab At Sleep. His loudmouth voice has blasted 103.1 The Buzz in West Palm Beach, Virgin Radio in New York City, and can be heard screaming on 107.7 The End.
He lives in Seattle America 2006.