April 28, 2011
Live: The Decemberists @ The Pageant 4/27/11
I've never seen so many people in the Pageant before in my life. They must have increased capacity for certain concerts, since it became clear that what happened to the economy isn't cyclical in nature.
I got there a little bit late, from having to pregame at home (I learned my lesson about sober concert-going at the Arcade Fire the other day), and I ended up having to park way down at that weird end of Delmar where there's nothing but umpteen long since shuttered Chinese restaurants and the last day care you want to take your kids, even more so than the numerous other child day care centers in the ghetto. (Why is that such a big business in the hood and not at all anywhere else? Think about it.) It's a wonder I wasn't shot and killed on my way to the show, or especially afterward.
I ended up missing part of opener Justin Townes Earle's set, but I wasn't really sweating it, because I wasn't too familiar with his work, and I figured it was one of those things where the Decemberists are at that point in their career where they can bring anyone out as an opener, even random Portland, Oregon area street buskers. They're gonna sell out the venue anyway. As opposed to that thing where you have to bring out a group that's secretly way better than you - Okkervil River or somebody - and end up having to split way more of the evening's haul. No shots at any groups that tour with Okkervil River. I'm just saying.
Come to find out, Justin Townes Earle is a big nerdy white dude - like if Tom Breihan decided to embark on a career as a blues singer. I read just now that he's the son of Steve Earle, who's perhaps most famous for his role as the the trucker junkie on the Wire. I believe he was that guy Bubs' sponsor, but don't start me to lying. My immediate reaction was to chuckle at the very sight of a young cracka-ass cracka trying to sing the blues, presumably pissed at what's been going on with the Playstation 3's online service for the past week or so. But I have to say, Justin Townes Earl very quickly put any of those thoughts to rest. Dude has a voice. Researching this post just now (like I always do), I see he's in and out of jail as often as T.I. He might need to see about incorporating more of his ex-con son of a trucker junkie background into his wardrobe.
Continuing in a similar vein, Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, as you can see above, looks like a bloated, less nervous version of Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. But that picture doesn't really do him justice. In person, he seems somewhat more solid and "fathletic." Like, if he spent a few weeks in the gym, he could play the dude from Modest Mouse in a (sure to be disturbing) biopic.
The other obvious reference point would be the Barenaked Ladies. Maybe not so much physically, though I do think they have a guy who kinda looks like him. But definitely in terms of the overall schtick. I knew he had somewhat jokey lyrics, and that he's from Portland, which is closer to Canada than Missouri is, close enough for this BS analogy, but who knew his concerts were filled with such antics. (Note that of course I've never seen the Barenaked Ladies live in concert. I just remember seeing them on VH1 a bunch during their early '00s-era heyday, when I was in college.)
The evening began with a not so funny audio introduction by Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland (not the guy rapped over "Walking on Broken Glass?"), instructing the crowd to turn to the left and to the right and introduce themselves to one another - which wasn't about to happen, given the kind of crowd you typically find at the Pageant. I bet he was also expecting a few different references to the release of Barack Obama's birth certificate to go over better than they did. But for the most part, I found Meloy's banter hilarious. It gave the show more of a theatrical element. Like a one man show, but with good songs, too. The one part I could have done without was the parts where I expected to participate. Especially the parts where we had to act out scenes from the "Mariner's Revenge Song," or whatever it's called, on some kindergarten shit. It's a good thing I was thoroughly intoxicated.
As far as the rest of the songs were concerned, of course they were brilliant (the Decemberists have enough good songs to play for like four hours straight), though like this most recent album, The King Is Dead, they seemed to lack a certain edge. Everything was very easy listening, in a '70s AM radio sort of way. I realize that's the vibe they were going for, it's just I'm not sure how well it translate to a venue filled with 20-something kids standing around getting their drink on; and then it felt like a lot of the jokes and a lot of the theatrical elements were thrown in specifically for the purpose of making sure no one fell asleep standing up, which might cause a tragic stampede, given how many people they're letting into the Pageant these days. Obvious solution: Sprinkle in more older, less boring songs in between these newer ones that sound like Starbucks Muzak variations on "The One I Love" by REM. If it's that important to sell the new album, incorporate a CD sell into the price of the ticket, like Prince does.
Byron Crawford a/k/a Bol is the celebrated author of several books, most recently NaS Lost: A Tribute to the Little Homey.
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