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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Decemberists @ The Riverside Theater

May 29, 2009

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Blowing through their entire rock opera, Hazards of Love, then returning to play a looser set filled with back-catalog material, The Decemberists squeezed two distinct performances at the Riverside Theater into one time slot. It's only fitting that Friday night ended with hundreds of fans climbing onto the stage to sing the closer "Sons and Daughters."

But that wasn't even the show's highlight. It might've been guest singer Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and her fiercely malicious, so-bad-she's-good personification of Hazards of Love's evil queen on the surging "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid." Or maybe her tongue-in-cheek rendition of Heart's catchy "Guitar Hero II" track "Crazy on You" with Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark, which had frontman Colin Meloy smiling the whole way through. There was also Meloy's nerdy ditty "Dracula's Daughter," a teenage vampire, angst-driven tune he wrote when he was young. Or his instigation of a "battle of the fancy seats," a contest to see which side of the theater's box seats could sing louder during a breakdown in "16 Military Wives." In the end, there wasn't one main high point of the performance, just several momentous peaks. The Decemberists weren't without their flaws, though. Meloy halted "Engine Driver" and "Red Right Ankle," pausing to remember the lyrics and sharing a laugh with the audience, never really losing his cool.

Split into two halves, The Decemberists' sold-out show kept a straight face during their hour-long prog rock Hazards set, but relaxed considerably after a 20-minute break, with Meloy nervously "gushing" about Milwaukee waterways and organist/accordionist Jenny Conlee's firsthand observation of their tainting. "You might have lovely canals," Meloy said, "but there's pee in them." While the singer's offhanded humor delighted listeners, he was at his best when he was at his cruelest. A single from Hazards and a crowd favorite, "The Rake's Song," describes the merciless murder of the narrator's children through poison, suffocation and fire. The audience abetted the killing through singing along with the chorus ("Alright/Alright/Alright").

To fans, Meloy mirrors the main character in "The Rake's Song." He can maim, murder or butcher lyrics, and they'll condone whatever he does next. Just, please, no Dracu-rock opera.

Photo by Dale Reince