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Alasdair Roberts & The Decemberists at Metropolis – 11/05/06

Posted by Scott / November 7, 2006

decemberists two.jpg
What became clear as soon as my accomplice and I arrived at Metropolis was that The Decemberists are very popular. Like, they’re the dork AC/DC.

Their fans are totally dedicated to the cause, singing every lyric, clapping in time, stomping on command. There were several instances of audience participation directed by head-Decemberist Colin Meloy, including a parting of the audience into two groups that would then shake their fists at each other across the divide. My accomplice and I were more at the back of the club, which was full of hugging couples, hearing the songs that they’ve put on mixtapes for each other, having a great time.

But let’s back up and start at the beginning.

An early show – 8 pm start – and all-ages as well. Alasdair Roberts came on just after my accomplice and I arrived to an increasingly full Metropolis. Roberts is a Scottish folk singer, until recently known as Appendix Out. He and two other musicians played a short set of fairly straight folk tunes, including three traditional pieces. While Roberts is talented, he seemed an incongruous fit with the audience and venue, getting lost in the din of such a large hall. As a Glaswegian folkie he would have been far more engaging in a pub or smaller venue. Maybe that’s his plan for next tour, given the exposure he’s been getting supporting the Decemberists.

Now, I have to admit I have some problems with the Decemberists. On record I find them to be flat, somehow (and the press photos in period costumes are, to me, a tad precious). But I recognize the talent in the songwriting and musicianship and keep a couple of songs on the iPod for those days when I’m feeling particularly strident about something (ocean tragedies, WWII, etc.).

However, as The Decemberists played I found myself enjoying them more with each song. They are all multi-instrumentalists, which I didn’t realize, and the band is crazy tight. The stage was laden with vintage instruments, and decorated with paper lamps and a silk backdrop, building on the theme of their latest release The Crane Wife. At any given time there could be two violins and a bowed bass, a banjo and strange Indian drone instrument, guitars, glockenspiels and organs, or 4 part harmonies. What struck me most was that they displayed a vibrancy at odds with their recordings, watching each other for changes, conscious of their interplay – and that they have a willingness to allow space for each other and the song. The greatest reaction from the crowd was to material from Picaresque and The Crane Wife, which often brought an absolute rapture from the packed house. “O Valencia”, for example, had people waving their hands in the air in that like-I-just-don’t-care manner. These people are like nipple-ripping Smiths fans, except somehow happy.

In the end, I was pleased to learn that The Decemberists are far better live than on record. I also came to the conclusion that they are probably the least likely sex symbols possible. Despite that, they are clearly adored by a large number of people, and will probably have their own commemorative stamps and coins issued, like Radiohead and Death Cab.



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