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The Decemberists, My Brightest Diamond Live!

| April 25, 2007 | 0 Comments

The Decemberists, My Brightest Diamond
Riviera, Chicago
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Archaic. Cumbersome. These are words often applied to the bombastic, highly literate “rock” purveyed by The Decemberists. By arriving onstage to a Russian maritime anthem (the band’s name is an intentional misspelling of a 19th-century uprising against the czar) and lulling the audience through “Oceanside,” “The Crane Wife 3,” and “Come And See,” The Decemberists gathered all the makings of the most boring concert of the audience’s lives.

The manner in which frontman Colin Meloy hammered at his acoustic guitar suggested Pete Townshend fighting off “Pinball Wizard,” but the lite sonic result coming out of it made the scene laughable. The band’s albums are loaded with passion and whimsy, but the frequent criticism of their live show is pretense and self-serving grandeur, both of which were reaching peak levels three songs in.

But, as the records tend to do, the performance turned and Wednesday wasn’t the worst night of anyone’s life. Meloy and band stepped out of their narratives and began poking fun at them. On an evening focused mainly on the band’s major label debut, The Crane Wife (Capitol), when comedic chances presented themselves, Meloy and chatty drummer John Moen pounced. Upon inviting opener Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond) to fill Laura Veirs’ duet shoes on “Yankee Bayonet” Meloy quipped, “We’d now like to present you with a cover of Ministry’s ‘Stigmata'” — a joke undoubtedly lost on most of the Riviera, but a real treat for us Chicago geeks.

Ultimately, Meloy’s greatest appeal (outside of his musicianship) is his embracing the role of head geek. Even though Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo flashed his horn-rimmed glasses for the masses, his Harvard enrollment always seemed hardcore and overshadowed his professed love of KISS, skateboards, and D&D. After the Ministry bit, Meloy laughed at his song’s premise: a Civil War-era dialogue between a widow and her soldier husband who’s dead, and spouting poetry in a 19th-century idiom.

He inspired a clapping storm during “O Valencia!,” talked up a ghost of Revolting Cocks that haunted the Riviera, and tricked keyboardist Jenny Conbee into an aria she clearly wanted no part of. When the serious side did rear its head it came tenderly via a reprise of “Crane Wife 3” and “You’ll Not Feel The Drowning.”

In the end — well not technically; the end consisted of guitarist Chris Funk in a Chinese-parade-sized whale costume, eating up bandmates — Meloy did hope to convey he wasn’t turning The Decemberists into a spoof of indie pop bands. Diplomatically addressing the Virginia Tech massacre, he implored the audience not to cast aspersions on people who deal in dark literature and themes. Aside from the potential for self-censorship, it could cause people to trample on the good times that far outnumber the bad.

Opener My Brightest Diamond continue to hinge their stage show on manic depression. Appropriately and uniformly dressed in a Clockwork Orange white, they veered from the slinky downtempo of “Magic Rabbit” to the viral kinetics of “Freak Out.” Shara Worden’s voice filled every corner of the Riv and it wasn’t bold of her at all to confront Gram Parson’s translated version of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin.” “Disappear” mimicked a broken music box for her Beth Gibbons-ish voice to mend, though it was her success at matching Robert Plant on a convincing cover of “No Quarter” that showed how thrilling she can sound with a bulldozing rhythm behind her.

— Steve Forstneger

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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