hear all the bombs fade away
So it looks like the new plan will have to wait until Tuesday.
I’ve been waiting to see The Decemberists live for months, possibly years. Possibly since the day I accidentally fell upon “Red Right Ankle” and began my love affair with Colin Meloy. So much of who I am is tangled up in their music that they’re permanently enshrined on my ribs. And tonight, I finally got to see them on stage, in one of the coolest and most historic venues Nashville has to offer.
I knew going in that this gig was going to be fantastic. The first half of the show was dedicated to The Hazards of Love. The Decemberists, along with guest performers Becky Stark and Shara Worden, performed the album in its entirety. And when I say performed, I mean really performed. All they needed were props and costume changes, and they could have put the best Broadway productions to shame. The Hazards of Love is a rock opera, and their performance of it tonight practically made it into Jesus Christ Superstar.
There were lights and instrument changes, and Becky dressed as Margaret and Shara dressed as a jealous queen. There was (frankly terrible and improvised) choreography. They were dramatic and serious and, yes, energetic, but almost like they were just trying too hard to put on a show–and not as if they were the goofy, quirky musicians their fans know and love. Don’t get me wrong, The Hazards of Love was an incredible performance. And somehow, the story’s arc was more vivid performed live than listened to on the record. I was able to appreciate the album as something new and entirely different.
Colin Meloy posted earlier this week on Twitter that he was suffering from a scratchy throat. At first, it wasn’t terribly noticable. There was a little strain here and there, but when he started into “The Rake’s Song”, it was apparent just how tired and exhausted he seemed. Aside from that, though, “The Rake’s Song” was the highlight of the first set: in addition to John Moen’s drumset, Chris Funk, Shara and Becky, and Jenny Conlee all played individual drums in synchronization, under criss-crossing, spooky white lights. One of my least favorite songs on that album, it was performed in a way that made it haunting and eerie, rather than sinister.
When Meloy and Stark finally sang their last notes as William and Margaret in “The Drowned”, they took a brief intermission, and the crowd collectively heaved a sigh. It had been a very intense hour.
When the band reconvened on stage, it was to an uproarious crowd and with significantly more joviality on their part. The Decemberists, all quirky and nerdy and awkward and silly, had finally arrived. Commenting on the need to appease the “ghosts of Ryman Auditorium”, Colin Meloy wailed and warbled through several ghost stories in a row: “Leslie Ann Levine”, “Eli, The Barrowboy”, the double-suicide anthem, “We Both Go Down Together”. They played “The Bachelor and the Bride” and then turned autobiographical with “an undisclosed member of the band’s personal experience with a YMCA sports program” in “The Sporting Life”.
Meloy was in high spirits, indeed for his second go-’round. He had the audience on our feet, clapping and laughing along to “the worst song I’ve ever, ever written”: a hilarious four-line song about Dracula’s daughter. This was followed by the story of how, after realizing how terrible it was, God promptly shed one enormous tear, which splashed down to Earth and flooded the world, but irrigation systems were developed out of this tragedy and from the flood, the city of Nashville was born and God told country music singers to “go forth and be twangy”.
Next was “O, Valencia!”, to which I screamed and thrased along. And “Billy Liar” became an all-out romp as, for the closing “ba-ba-ba-dum”s, Meloy divided the main floor into “house left” and “house right” (“And if you don’t know what that means, ask the drama fag sitting next to you to explain the etymology of those terms. Because let’s face it, at a show like this, at least one person next to you is a drama fag!”) and gave us each our own parts to sing, throwing in a sort of “alley-ooop” for the participants in the balcony. He then conducted us, allowing us to sing in his place for several minutes while he narrated and encouraged and laughed.
When, finally, he gave the signal to cut us off after a rousing crescendo, Shara Worden and Becky Stark rejoined the group on stage for an amazing cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You”. Bows taken and thank-yous given, they took the shortest of breaks before coming back for an encore, hailed back to the stage by several hundred feet stomping and hands pounding on the wooden pews that comprise the Ryman’s seating.
The encore was brief, but wonderful. Colin delighted us by performing a new song, something sweet and tender about winter and January and much more like the Decemberists of Castaways and Cutouts than of The Hazards of Love. Though I was hoping for it, and really expecting them to play it, they never did play “The Crane Wife”, versions I, II, or III. Instead, they ended the show with “Sons & Daughters”, which was really quite perfect. And when they got to the last refrain, “hear all the bombs fade away”, they surpised us all by asking and encouraging everyone to hop on stage and join them. Nearly half the main floor seemed to take them up on the offer, and if it weren’t for my path being blocked on both sides, I would have been up there in an instant, too.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say that tonight’s show was the best gig of my life.
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Tags: Colin Meloy, gigs, Nashville, Ryman Auditorium, The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love