The Decemberists Bring a Musical Revolution to the Fox
It was a cold December night…ok no, it wasn’t. It was a warm April evening, but The Decemberists were playing at the Fox Theatre, so I was kind of right. As my photographer (Sidney Spear) and I made our way into the theater we thought we were going to be in for a long night.
We shuffled in about five minutes into Julien Baker’s set and were instantly entranced by her hauntingly beautiful voice and ambient guitar accompaniment. The solo singer/guitarist kept the crowd mesmerized; so much so that she even remarked at our stunned silence. “You’re all being very polite this evening,” she mentioned while tuning her guitar between songs.
Julien then reminisced about her last trip to Atlanta where her gig was canceled and the bus ran out of gas. According to the tale, they (her and her band at the time) then tried to busk for enough money to get home and came up with nothing. She never said how they made it back home, but all that matters is that she made her way back to Atlanta. I’ve wanted to see her live for a while, and I’m thrilled to say that she exceeded every expectation.
Where Julien Baker was a calm, serene pond, The Decemberists were an unpredictable and roaring ocean. The Portland, Oregon five-piece started the evening with the 18-minute song “The Tain” off of their 2005 EP of the same name. The first song was an incredible journey that started off with a similar vibe to opener Julien Baker before quickly leaving that behind, and, in true Portland hipster fashion, featured frontman Colin Meloy jumping behind the drum kit and drummer John Moen playing the shit out of the melodica (If, like me, you have no clue what a melodica is, click here).
From here, the setlist, which Colin was very proud of creating, followed a similar series of peaks and valleys. One second there were funky jams with guitar, bass, and electric keyboard solos and the next they would go into a three song campfire chill out. The middle of the setlist, dubbed the “water section,” was comprised of beautifully composed and performed songs “Down by the Water,” “Till the Waters,” and “Lake Song." The mood was then immediately flipped on its head by a song that they said they had never played live before, “Everything is Awful" (Plot twist: it was actually awesome).
Colin Meloy, just like Julien Baker, commented on how “polite” of a crowd we were. No one in the crowd seemed to notice or care that both artists had subtly been trying to make the crowd interact as if it were a rock show and not an opera or play. I guess something about the stunning visuals and starry ceiling of the most beautiful theater in the southeast must make people feel like they have to stay quiet and respectful. Fortunately, the crowd eventually got the hint and livened up.
The entire venue finally stood up all at once to jam out to the last two or three songs of the set before The Decemberists left the stage. The crowd clamored for more and the intensely talented musicians gave use exactly what we wanted. Playing a trio of songs that create “The Crane Wife” parts one, two, and three, the band departed again to even louder applause and even more adoration from the crowd than before. Then, in a move I had yet to see in all my years of going to shows, they re-returned to the stage for a second encore with “June Hymn” before making their final exit.
The tour pairing of The Decemberists and Julien Baker brings an essentially perfect blend of smooth, ambient songs and absolute jams. The level of musicianship on this tour is through the roof and is worth every penny and every second. Get there early and stay until the house lights cut on. You won't want to miss a single note.
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music