The Greek Theatre
Portland, OR The Decemberists were in town for their latest release What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World. The band performed one of their best shows ever to a sold-out crowd in Berkeley. It was the bands first time playing at The Greek, and they had never sounded better. The acoustics were fabulous in the amphitheater and their sound filled the venue.The setlist focused mainly on their newer material (which is nothing short of awesome) but also had a few songs from the impressive Hazards of Love. Overall, they did a song here and there from their prior albums. Of course, its always great when they are playing songs from their earlier material. Plus, Colin Meloy wanted to focus on California and all things/songs California – which meant we got the ever fitting ‘Grace Cathedral Hill’. He also seemed to start to wax poetic about Los Angeles before commenting on the rivalry between the two areas. Regardless, it was pretty awesome to hear ‘Los Angeles, Im Yours’.
Of course, any Decemberists show without the charm of Colin Meloy, would really not be a show. Colin was in great form and oh so talkative. He talked about writing the song ‘Calamity Song’ and how it was much better when it was initially written to be “Hank Eat Your Oatmeal” which is obviously a classic. Written to get his son to eat oatmeal, the song was just that line but oh so precious. And of course, the worst song to ever be written ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ is always pretty awesome even if its just a small clip.
But really, there were two major highlights of the night. The first and very unexpected surprise was the band performing “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle The Thistles Undone). I really didn’t think I would ever hear it again live after seeing it performed with Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) back in 2009. Nor, did I ever think it could be that impressive. If you’re not familiar with the song, right about now you need to be hearing it. But, Kelly Hogan KILLED it! Thats an understatement, Kelly (Neko Case’s partner in crime aka a vocalist in her current band) has a wonderful voice. And her addition to the song was nothing short of beautiful. So that was a very pleasant surprise. Plus, it turns out some friends know her and couldn’t have enough praise for her and how thankful/excited she was. Seriously, this is beyond awesome.
And if that wasn’t enough, ’16 Military Wives’ (which I just love), got all the better. During the ‘la di dahs’ towards the end of the song Colin had a lot of crowd participation from getting the audience to sing along, to engaging all parts of the amphitheater from the very front to the grass on the hill. He singled out a few people getting them to do individual performances plus also in typical Colin format, telling the crowd to be quiet because ‘Im a professional’ and naturally he can do it better. But one of the best parts was when he told the crowd to stop singing and be quiet and don’t think about the song, but think about the song ‘Sailing’ from Christopher Cross and to sing it to yourself (which naturally he did) and then forgot the lyrics and of course, it couldnt have been more amusing.The band was tight and the back-up vocalists were awesome. Chris Funk was having a great time as always switching it up from the banjo to the guitar to some mandolin. Colin, vocally, has never sounded better and of course the harmonica playing was all the better; but seriously no concert is ever complete without Jenny Conlee – naturally kicking ass on the accordion and piano. But all the better when she adds her vocals to a song and Colin will typically take a moment to applaud her. The crowd just loves her!
Sadly, the band was running out of time which meant they had to cut their set short. Always a pity as theres so much material to want to hear. Of course, no show is complete without having ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’ as the finale/encore. So of course, with roughly 15 minutes left before 11pm, the band announced it would be their last song and dove right in. And the song was as fun as always – with a couple practice rounds of screaming … how often are most of us eaten by a whale, so you definitely have to prepare. He said us Californians would probably be more used to dealing with this (sharks in an ocean??) and gave us a practice round. Of course, it wasnt quite good enough but with 2 rounds we were ready to go. And just like that the quintet began the journey. It felt like you were on a ship going down, and you could feel the crowd going back and forth like being on the ocean. As the song continued, soon enough the whale (which seems to have grown), came out and swallowed us all. Obviously, there were survivors (hence the song), and the song continued. Nate Query on stand-up bass and Chris on mandolin and of course Jenny providing backing vocals all sounded amazing! The song just couldn’t possibly have been better.
The show was just brilliant. Ive now seen the band a handful of times and this show might have been the best. The band was in top form and Colin just seemed so happy. And of course, the crowd loves him. Berkeley ended up being a great night for them.
Plus, Lucius opened. The two women who sing (who dress the same, yet aren’t sisters) also sounded really great. The Brooklyn based band has an indie-pop-folk sound with some of the most beautiful harmonies. They also at times sound like a 60’s girl band and add a bit of guitar and you get a perfect pop band. They will definitely get big and opening for the Decemberists is sure to help them out. A perfect complement to the Decemberists and it made for a special night.
The Singer Addresses His Audience
Down By The Water
Hank Eat Your Oatmeal/Calamity Song
Grace Cathedral Hill
Make You Better
The Wrong Year
Los Angeles, I’m Yours
The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone) w/Kelly Hogan
A Bower Scene
Won’t Want for Love
The Rake’s Song
16 Military Wives
Dracula’s Daughter/O Valencia
A Beginning Song
The Mariner’s Revenge Song