“Good evening! Please do not be alarmed” says that all too familiar American accent as blinding bolts of blue flood the stage. “My name is Sam Adams and I am the mayor of Portland, Oregon”.
It’s obvious this crowd are in for something special tonight, and when Portland Royalty (albeit in pre-recorded form) introduces you to a stage set not unlike a scene from Speilberg’s ‘Close Encounters’, the anticipation for the first note is almost palpable as The Decemberists take to their post.
Over six critically acclaimed albums, the band have established themselves as a Pacific North- West musical experience. Tonight they take full advantage of their cult following and the last night of European dates on their Popes of Pendarvia tour. From the slow strings and graceful melodies of ‘The Crane Wife’ to the Loud, distorted guitars of ‘The Hazards of Love’, this show is the culmination of everything they’ve got, and boy are they willing to give.
“Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the green rainforests of Oregon.” Instructs the mayor. Over the course of the next two hours (and two encores) The Decemberists will take this crowd on a journey deep into the vivid colours of the worlds which they create; not only through Colin Meloy’s ever ingenious and sometimes whimsical lyrics, but through the lights and sounds that crash like waves from the stage and into the audience. As the notes ring out from older favourites such as The Bagman’s Gambit and We Both Go Down Together, so too do the bone-crunching drums of This Is Why We Fight and Rox in The Box from the bands current album, The King is Dead.
Meloy is a born singer, a unique lyricist and a wonderful performer. Whilst the band are excellent – exploring a whole spectrum of sound through a wide range of instruments and dynamics – it is meloy who is the star. During the cinematic The Crane Wife (parts 1&2 and 3) his voice is able to captivate every single member of the audience. One moment you are alone with him as he plucks
gently his sunburnt acoustic guitar; the next you are singing at the top of your lungs as his lyrics cut twice through you.
It is not a skill that Israel Nebeker, frontman of opening act, Blind Pilot can claim to have; although this is no bad thing. His band echo through the auditorium of the Apollo like a gentle breeze as opposed to Malloy and his cohort’s great wave. Imagine Josh Rouse with a sprinkling of The Middle East and you’re not far off. The band are able to silence the crowd into attention as they play out the
soft stylings of The Story I Heard and the slightly more up-tempo One Red Thread and it is easy to see the influence The Decemberists’ have had on them as they headed into the last song of their set, We Are The Tide. It is a song that, with its samba beat and Arcade Fire–style drive, highlights that this band may not simply be defined by the state from which they reside. Having Charles Darwin as their percussionist doesn’t hurt either, but even evolution cannot come close to the sheer force of The Decemberists as they Hurl out the fuzz fueled Rake Song under the cover of blood-red houselights.
By the time that The headliners have reach their second encore they have already given the audience far more than they needed. The ‘wave’ of which I frequently speak is never greater than when Meloy and his fellow bandmates have the audience swaying from side to side to the wonderfully inventive sea-shanty, The Marinners Revenge Song. The crowd are screaming aloud (litterally); held captive inside the belly of a whale and enjoying every moment of it. The Decemberists have given them 16 songs, an encore (with one left to come), an address from an elected mayor and a version of Billy Joel’s Nightmoves, of which even he would be proud.It is quite something to see an audience catching their collective breath as The Decemberists depart; Content to be on the shore but willing at any second to head straight back into that big blue wonder…at least for that second encore.
Down by the Water
Rise to Me
We Both Go Down Together
The Bagman’s Gambit
Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In The Taiga)
The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Crane Wife 3
The Rake’s Song
Don’t Carry It All
Rox in the Box
This Is Why We Fight
16 Military Wives
The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)
The Mariner’s Revenge Song