Last night three great friends from my MFA days took me to The Decemberists’ concert at the Overture Center as a welcome-back-to-Madison present. The show didn’t start till 6:30, but since it was open seating, we queued up before 5:30 to RUN LIKE MADWOMEN to the front of orchestra seating. We scored seats in the third row, but the moment the actual show started, everyone sort of bum-rushed the tiny walkway in front of the stage… so of course we did, too, and ended up SMASHED AGAINST THE STAGE, so close that I am certain various band members’ sweat & spittle was part of the general smoke-machine miasma of awesomeness that we were breathing in.
The be-muttonchopped Colin Meloy
The be-muttonchopped Colin Meloy

The show itself kicked ass—they played their new album, The Hazards of Love  in its entirety! Like a ROCK OPERA. Colin Meloy was decked out in suspenders and sported mutton chops. MUTTON CHOPS.  Plus, the show was so loud and we were so freaking close to the stage, I could feel not only the drums and bass throbbing in my sternum, but the ACCORDION, TOO. I think I would have been satisfied hearing The Hazards of Love (which is like 14 songs long already) and then maybe a couple songs for an encore… but The Decemberists took a break after Hazards and came back to play SEVEN MORE SONGS. AND THEN ALSO AN ENCORE. They hit some of my favorites, like “The Crane Wife,” “July, July,” “We Both Go Down Together,” and “The Bachelor and the Bride.” Plus, dear Colin did “Red Right Ankle,” one of my all-time favorite songs, during the encore—just him and his melancholy guitar.

What I think I like most about the Decemberists is the intense geekery of the music. I mean, a lot of hipsterish, affected-indie kids profess to ‘love the Decemberists,’ and that’s cool—have at, kiddo. But the thing I love most about them is that they just seem like good people—smart people who aren’t afraid to be smart (holy shit, right?). They’re just people who love to make music that involves accordions and mandolins and banjos and upright basses, who write songs about lovers separated by the Civil War, rumrunners and Odalisques, gypsies and legionnaires, satyrs and evil queens. I mean, the stories the songs tell are things you read about in Victorian novels, for Christ’s sake, with diction to match.  The lyrics are so playful and brainy that I have run to the dictionary (a favorite pastime of mine as it is) after hearing Colin sing words I don’t know in a song! AND the sentences are grammatically correct!  AND there is real attention to story-telling across albums, especially the most recent ones!  For someone who values the English language as a tool for precise expression, but also loves new music—traditionally a hotbed of wretched grammar and confused and or impenetrable lyrics—The Decemberists constituted a positive revelation for me when a friend burned “Her Majesty” for me in college.  I geeked out for them hard, because they could be brainy and weird and still rock out.  I really appreciate a band that can manage to be LOUD but also use the word “plover,” or “roustabout” in a song– at all, but also correctly! How often does that happen?

Erika Wennerstrom waiing her face off

Erika Wennerstrom waiing her face off

In sum:  the concert was awesome, but I expected that. The real revelation of the evening was actually the opening act, The Heartless Bastards . Goddamn, did they ever shake the foundation.  Seriously.  They were so loud I was pretty certain my entire body was being disassembled cell by cell by the vibrations– a sensation that never fails to freak me out (in a really good way)– particularythose generated by the drummer, who may or may not have been POSSESSED BY DEMONS. Seriously, watching him smash the everloving crap out of his drum kit was the the closed-eyes, open-mouthed percussive version of a demon possession. The lead singer for the Heartless Bastards is Erika Wennerstrom, and not only did she scream her way right into my heart, she also looked alarmingly (and awesomely) like a doppelganger for one of my best friends. When she walked out on stage and launched into what I believe was “All This Time” (I can’t be entirely sure, I was deafened and mesmerized by the drummer), I was all like, HOLY SHIT, WHEN DID MEGAN JOIN A BAND?

It was a kickass night. I may never hear again but be forced to perceive sound via vibrations on my skin forevermore. And that’s how you know the concert was good.


2 responses »

  1. joanimals says:

    In honor of this, I’m cranking up The Hazards of Love while I try to burn through some more flashcards. Maybe it will make me smarter just to hear the crazy wordplay.

  2. Megan says:

    I am ridiculously jealous. Or am I? Stage names, Erinn. Stage names.

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