Well, that title may be a bit on the oxymoronic side, but the latest album did bring in a lot of the elements of metal. I was a little bit taken aback the first time I listened to The Hazards of Love and was assailed by that first wave of chunky, churning guitars and the occasional hair-metal wailings of the one female singer. This really didn't fit in with the usually more mild-mannered geek rock that made The Decemberists kinda-sorta famous. Although, when the catchiest song on the album is a song in which the "humble narrator" murders his own children, you can't really say that the band has had a real change of heart.
"The Rake's Song," by the way, is freaking incredible live. The song has lead singer Colin Meloy and bassist Nate Query playing guitar and electric bass while the other five or so people on stage are whaling away on drums. There's a thrill to that song that I didn't fully recognize while listening to the album.
The show itself was a touch unusual. After the opening band (the surprisingly good Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames) The Decemberists came out in two sets. The first set was the new album. Given the conceptual nature of Hazards of Love, the first set was pretty theatrical. Song segued musically into song and there was little banter. It wasn't the traditional bit of rock concert that I'm used to, but the band put on a good show and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Still, the crowd mostly sat through the first set, but it seemed somehow appropriate instead of lame. I'm just not used to going to shows in venues big enough to have seats anymore. The music and the performance seemed to beg for more attention than could be given while bouncing up an down, throwing up the horns, and screaming "Freebird!" After a short break after the Hazards set, the band came back on stage, sans the two female musicians needed for the female parts from the new album, and suddenly turned into traditional concert. People spontaneously sprang to their feet with the opening bars of "Sporting Life" and remained there until the show ended around midnight. Meloy was one of the better front men I've ever seen at a show. He was engaging and witty and worked the crowd better than any other I've ever seen. The guy seemed to genuinely like what he was doing. His enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the crowd. The regular set ended by bringing the two female vocalists back on stage for a cover of Heart's "Crazy on You," which was more appropriate than it may sound at first. These girls, especially the lady in black, had powerful voices and, as I mentioned before, there are threads of the teased out hair metal days of rock coming through on the latest album.
Of course that crowd was one of those groups I've described before as the vaguely jiggling masses, although this one trended geekier and less hipster-esque than the crowds I usually see at show for the likes of Built to Spill and Iron and Wine. I like being in these crowds. I like that feeling of being both cooler than and not cool enough to be a part of the group.
I honestly have to say that this was the second best show I've ever attended. It's hard to compete with the naked, hairless, twirling contortionists at that one Tool show at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans a few years ago. That show transformed the music of a band I previously disliked into music I loved. This show just gave me a greater appreciation for a band I already dug.