Friday Night: The Decemberists at Marymoor Park

Chantal Anderson
Jenny Conlee, Colin Meloy and Becky Stark of The Decemberists perform at Marymoor Park on Friday, July 17, 2009
A few months back, when The Hazards of Love first came out, I wrote a sort of relationship diary about my troubled love affair with the Decemberists and what happens when a band you once loved with a fiery passion makes two very inconsistent albums in a row. In that piece, which is much more well-written and probably more worthy of your time than this review, I said that The Hazards of Love had rekindled our relationship. After last Friday, it's official. The Decemberists and I are back together (more photos from our date forthcoming).

Even though it was inspired by the British folk revival of the '60s (more specifically, by a 1966 EP by Anne Briggs called The Hazards of Love), The Hazards of Love is more rock opera than folk record, complete with linear storyline and tooth-rattling guitar riffs. Performing the thing in its entirety seemed not only natural, then, but essential to the piece's integrity. If I liked The Hazards of Love before, experiencing those big, bombastic metal moments live was a revelation. While the quieter moments are nice as well, it was the metal guitar and Shara Worden's throaty, powerful voice that made the performace. I half-expected to see someone head-banging and holding up rawk hands (though I'm really, really glad I didn't.)

Though they're known for traveling with props (like the giant whale they toted around for performing "The Mariner's Revenge"), the Decemberists didn't have any extra toys onstage this time around. Frankly, they didn't need any. The most theatrical aspect of the whole thing was Becky Stark's outfit: a white dress and veil with a sequined bodice. Not quite sure what she was going for there -- something nuptial, perhaps -- but the end result came off more like Disco Virgin Mary than blushing bride. Thankfully, the veil came off after a short while, not to return again. And I was glad, because the music and story are compelling enough to stand on their own without the theatrical affectations that sometimes plague shows like this.

While I'm not a big fan of either My Brightest Diamond or Lavender Diamond (also, is there a reason both band names end in "diamond"?), both Shara Worden (who plays the angry mother character on the album) and Becky Stark (who plays Margaret, the female love interest) sound better live than they do recorded. It was such a stark contrast -- no pun intended -- that I think I may have to go give their respective bands a second go.

Though I was initially more anxious for the second half of the show, the segment in which the band decided to play older material, the set list wasn't at all what I was expecting. I've always loved the Decemberists' very first official EP, Five Songs, and while I've seen Colin Meloy play both "Oceanside" and "The Apology Song" in public, I've always held out hope that he'd play "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" sometime. I was not surprised when this did not happen. But the band did play "The Apology Song" again, which was a pleasant surprise. They went on to perform seven and a half songs:

July, July!

The Crane Wife 3

The Bachelor and the Bride

Dracula's Daughter...well, part of it anyway (hence the "half"). Meloy played the beginning of what he called, "the worst song I ever wrote," which earned him some chuckles. He quickly segued into "O Valencia," one of the band's radio hits and most likely, an obligatory choice.

But after that came the performance's crowning jewel: a cover of Heart's "Crazy On You," in which Shara Worden and Becky Stark played the part of the sisters Wilson and brought the proverbial house crashing the fuck down. The concert concluded with a rousing rendition of "Sons and Daughters," one of the best songs from The Crane Wife. The whole crowd sang the refrain ("when all the bombs fade away...") in unison, and the band left the stage a little after ten, not to return again. Marymoor Park, with its laid-back staff and reasonable booze prices, is probably the best outdoor concert venue in or around Seattle, but the noise curfew really knocks it down a few pegs in my esteem. I could've stayed and listened for another hour, mainly because I wanted to hear more from the band's first three albums.

If I had to pick my own seven-and-a-half song set, I think I would've chosen these songs, the majority of which I've never heard the band play before (or haven't heard since the Her Majesty tour):

Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect

When the War Came

My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist

Grace Cathedral Hill

On the Bus Mall

The Legionnaire's Lament

As I Rise (that's my half-song, as it's not even two minutes long)

I Was Meant for the Stage OR California One

What songs would you have liked to hear? More importantly, how can we start a petition to move the noise curfew at Marymoor to 11 p.m. on weekends? Seriously, Redmond. You can do better than that.

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