ARTICLE BY CHERYL CHENG
MAY 2 | LOS ANGELES—Seasoned fans of The Decemberists who missed tonight’s show at the Greek Theatre actually didn’t miss much. That isn’t to say The Decemberists didn’t put on a solidly entertaining show, but these veteran folk rockers often put on a consistently similar show—even if touring for a new album.
That new album is What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, whose album cover art was the backdrop for tonight’s performance. Overall, the show felt more grandiose than the past, showcasing backup singers, more ornate lighting, and during “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a whale prop. But besides the larger sound and greater theatrics, most of the show featured the expected rhythms of past Decemberists shows. For example, before the “Calamity Song,” singer-guitarist Colin Meloy sang “Hank Eat Your Oatmeal,” the short ditty he wrote to his “then-5-year-old son.” When he says, “I wanted to play for you the very worst song I ever wrote,” the audience cheers in recognition; yep, it’s “Dracula’s Daughter.” Perhaps this could be attributed to Meloy now being the father of two sons. I mean, how often does your own dad tell the same stories and jokes? It’s somewhat endearing.
Meloy did break out a few new jabs, joking with the crowd about “your excellent basketball team,” referring to the Clippers’ Game 7 win against the San Antonio Spurs, and then without missing a beat, quickly adding, “I bet you never thought you’d hear a sports reference at a Decemberists show! Mind blown!” (Meloy, an avid Portland Trailblazers fan, often posts about his team on his Facebook.)
In addition to the new tracks, which comprised the majority of the set, the band also performed the favorites, including “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” (a must!), “Billy Liar,” “16 Military Wives” (teased, per usual, with the slow guitar strum), and “The Crane Wife 1, 2 & 3.” Tonight’s show was certainly livelier than the last time The Decemberists were at the Greek. During the 2011 The King Is Dead tour, Jenny Conlee was notably absence due to treatment for breast cancer (she’s now in remission). When Meloy introduced her, Conlee smiled broadly and declared, “I’m psyched to be back!” Her presence was keenly felt throughout, as she switched between keyboards, the accordion, and even drums. The highlight was her vocals on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”—always a key part to that song.
Overall, The Decemberists sounded great, and the band members clearly relished their return to the stage. It had been a few years since the last tour and subsequent hiatus, and tonight’s show was enthusiastically welcomed. At the end of the night, Meloy and Chris Funk began the drawn-out explanation of audience participation for “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”: “Scream as loud as you can, as if you are being eaten by a whale.” By this point, judging from the audience’s reaction, almost everyone already knows exactly what to do. But it’s part of the show, so there’s the obligatory practice session beforehand. Under the warm and comforting cloak of familiarity, as everyone sings along and screams when cued by Funk’s arms imitating a whale’s mouth, it seems both fans and band members alike are having an enjoyable time. And isn’t that the point? There are no surprises with a Decemberists show; you know exactly what you’re going to get. When you tire of the consistency, however, you can probably skip the next show.