Sunday, April 29, 2007

the decemberists, my brightest diamond @ avalon, 3/24/07

with all the success the decemberists have enjoyed lately (like being npr's album of the year...a much better way to attract aging fans), it's great to see them still playing medium sized clubs. though the avalon is pretty shitty, with a much-too-narrow stage (it's more of a nightclub, less of a proper rock venue), colin and co. threw their backs into it and put on a great show for the sold-out house. this was my third time seeing them, though my first post-crane wife, so i was somewhat prepared for their antics, though they still managed to impress.

this show had special significance for me because my sister (who took all the pictures) and mother came up from new york for it. i took a weekend off and caught the train down from maine, and we all met up for the show, our first as a family (and their first with the decemberists). my mom receives a lot of music through osmosis the way my sister and i crank up the volume when we're home, and the decemberists had worked their way into her heart (or, at the very least, their damn-catchy melodies were rolling around in her head). in any event, we scored some extra tickets off the ever-reliable craigslist and reserved a room for the night.

my brightest diamond opened, an act i was looking forward to more than the decemberists. i had heard her stunning bring me the workhorse, released last summer, but had always gotten the impression that she was holding something back, that her majestic wails and octave jumps were reserved. i was hoping that her live show would be more satisfying, and, damn, was it.

shara worden, a.k.a. my brightest diamond, used to (still does?) sing in sufjan's illinoisemakers, but you would never have guessed it in her outfit that night. a far cry from cheerleading outfits and pigtails, worden and the other diamonds set the fashion tone for the night in their head-to-toe white outfits (the decemberists all wore white seersuckers). her hair was much longer than when i had seen the illinoisemakers last summer, which gave her a much more serious look. her set was disappointingly short--the all-ages crowd was there for the decemberists and not for worden, despite meloy's well-known love for workhorse as one of his favorite albums of 2006. they played the expected "golden star" and "magic rabbit," two of their best songs, and ended with an energized "freak out," really punky and spazzy. they also played led zeppelin's "no quarter," which, sadly, received the most applause because no one knew her other songs. such a shame. she's one of my favorite new artists, and i'd love to see her in her own right...i bet she'd kick serious ass.

i've posted "magic rabbit" below, from her daytrotter session...better than on workhorse and free free free. because it's recorded live, worden really lets her voice out, justifying the "operatic" tag that m.b.d.'s been given. go download the rest of the daytrotter set, then go buy bring me the workhorse. it's available from asthmatic kitty in both CD and LP versions.

the decemberists always try and include a little bit of over-dramatized ham in their shows, and this was no exception, featuring an at-least 20 foot tall backdrop of "twilight in the forbidden forest," the name of this tour (i wish i could've seen "rout of the patagons,"'s a way cooler title). colin's girlfriend, the source of despair for indie ladies the world over, was responsible for it, and it didn't disappoint. and neither did they.

i'd wager few people were surprised when they opened with the ubiquitous "crane wife 3," given their wont to open shows with leadoff tracks (they used "the infanta" every other time i saw them) and that song's recent popularity (i.e., it was in scrubs). colin came onstage alone with his twelve-string and serenaded us until the rest of the decemberoos joined him for the climax. they went straight into "july, july!" (as always, a fan favorite), which got everyone warmed up and excited. "the soldiering life" was a bit of a wrench, throwing a lot of the young crowd off track (damn all-ages crowds), but pre-crane wife fans happily sang along. "the infanta" was satisfying, as usual, though "the bachelor and the bride" is too much like "soldiering" for my taste...i would've preferred a nice version of "youth and beauty brigade," to be honest.

for "yankee bayonet," colin invited shara worden back on stage to sing the pertinent parts, a far cry from laura veirs's studio backing vocals. worden fleshed out the song nicely, bringing it even greater depth and beauty. the decemberists offered a treat next, a song cut from the crane wife, called "culling of the fold." i had heard rumors of this track from no place in particular, a b-side merely because jenny had deemed it too violent for the album itself. after the show, i had the devil's own time finding a copy of it online, but, in the end, was successful, and i've posted it below for your pleasure. in his introduction, colin joked about jenny's sensitivity before launching into the first lyric: cut him up, boy / you gotta cut him up, boy. between pretending to hang himself with the mic cord and singing with a person in the front row who knew the song, colin pranced about on stage, unfettered by his guitar, and enjoying himself wholeheartedly.

after "culling," the 'rists returned to standard fare with "on the bus mall," followed by "the legionnaire's lament." the latter is one of my favorite decemberists songs, though i have heard it at every show of theirs i've seen. they followed with the expected "o valencia," keeping the energy level high after "lament," and segued right into "the island." i had been anticipating "the island;" i think it's probably the decemberists' most versatile work to date (not counting, of course, the tain), and i was excited to see them do it live. well, their performance put even my hopes to shame. after thrilling us all with the pirate melodies of "the landlord's daughter," everyone except colin put down their instruments and grouped together by jenny's piano, picking up different instruments for "you'll not feel the drowning." jenny moved to the harpsichord, john took piano, nate played cello, and mr. funk gently played the violin, bringing the set to an elegant and, really, a special end. except the set wasn't over yet. after acknowledging the well-deserved applause for the "drowning"'s rearrangement, the decemberists retook their positions and treated the audience to a great rendition of "when the war came." i was surprised (and glad) that "island" wasn't the end of the set...i didn't get a copy of the set list, so i can't say whether it was planned or impulsive, but the crowd had good energy the whole show, and they definitely responded to that.

i think we got a double encore (not coming on stage twice, but two songs) primarily because of the audience's enthusiasm. someone had been calling out for "eli the barrow boy" all night, and colin, jenny, and chris funk came on alone to satisfy this request. i don't think i'd seen "eli" before this show, and it was cool to see funk play the hurdy-gurdy. but "eli" isn't a favorite, and i was more excited for "the mariner's revenge song," the encore staple that it is. and what a great way to end the show it is. adding a new dimension to their impressive live repertoire, the decemberists decided to forgo funk's shark impersonation for, well, a real-er one.

all in all, the gig was great. it was even better seeing it with mi famiglia, and we got to hang out with the decemberists in the street after the show. we waited around to get some things signed and say hey and thanks for the show, and they all came out and we chatted with all of them in turn, which was probably the best part of the whole night. so many performers don't mingle after shows, so it was especially great that they did. i've posted the a video my sister shot of the decemberists singing "hang the dj," a little response to the avalon's penchant for scheduling dance parties while the main artist is still playing. my favorite part of the decemberists's live shows is their demeanor--they're so relaxed and comfortable, and willing to play and improvise and connect with their audience--it's a great atmosphere. i'm also posting my brightest diamond "magic rabbit" from her daytrotter session and the "culling of the fold" for your enjoyment. both bands rock and deserve your support, so go out and spend some money on them.

my brightest diamond - "magic rabbit"

the decemberists - "culling of the fold"

more gig pictures below:

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