Sunday, March 27, 2005

the decemberists 3/25/2005 - CANES san diego



My dear friend Vinnie and I went and saw The Decemberists perform last Friday night. The venue was Canes, which is a neat beach bar and grill with a decent stage and two floors. I'd only been there twice before. Once was to see the now defunct band Ten Pound Brown perform, and the other time was when my first band played there. That was a bit of a rough day, since I got in my first and worst car accident about 4 hours before the show.

But I digress. I don't see a lot of live shows for two reasons. #1) I've been in a couple of bands and got burnt out on all the local venues. I also found that as a musician, I'd spend more time analyzing the show than actually enjoying myself. #2) For each band that really rocks, there's a ton of garage crap. Many of these random bands don't lack the ability to write or perform; they just lack any special quality that makes me want to get into their performance.

Case in point, the opening band for The Decemberists' show: Okkervil River. They had energy. They had the skill. They had a touch of stage presence. And they could write a catchy song or two. But in the end, it bored me. They all looked very indie and the lead singer sang with earnest. But the music just bounced off of me like stale water. And when the acoustic guitar and harmonica came out, I couldn't help but think: "Hey guys, I own Blonde On Blonde. Whatever you are about to do is WAY unnecessary. That said, they instead launched into what sounded like a bad Ryan Adams song. And anyone who knows of my distain for Mr. Adams knows that this is a cold insult. Multi-instrumentalists, tight jeans, funny hair, and earnest singing ... maybe I'm just a jerk. Or maybe they are trying to hard.

The Decemberists put on a fine show. After a setup period that lasted as long as the Mesozoic period, they took the stage. Colin Meloy may seem like an unlikely troubadour, but he is very confident and comfortable as they launch into their strange world of theatric, melodramatic, folk-rock (I refuse to use the term Chamber Pop). The opening number, 'The Infanta', gets the crowd going with its steady vamp and dramatic lyrics. The set is played very cleanly, and the sound at the venue is very good. Petra Haden, formerly of that dog and The Rentals, supplies gentle back-up vocals and furious violin. Many of the songs resolve around sad and ironic stories. That's what was so great about the sound quality. Even with songs you didn't know, the lyrics were audible.

One complaint when it comes to the track, 'The Sporting Life'. I've read so many reviews of their latest album that compare this song to Belle & Sebastian's 'Stars of Track and Field'. One review (I'm looking at you AMG) said that the track came "dangerously close" to the aforementioned B&S track. Listen to the two tracks back to back motherfucker! Ok, so they are both about kids playing sports. Yippie! The lyrics have shite in common, nor do they share melodies or mood. Just because The Decemberists are seen as being in the same genre as B&S doesn't make this a rip-off song. This is what I call LAZY journalism. It happens all the time in record reviews and music articles. People always look for the effortless comparison. Anyway....

The set closed with 'The Mariner's Revenge Song', proving that they had saved their best for last. Well, actually, they did do a rather anti-climactic encore. But I was tired and still a bit drunk, so I've forced myself to forget about it. The set was long and paced pretty well. I'm so amazed by the talent and variety of influence today's young musicians have. Ten years ago, you would have never heard music like this from a group of 20-30 somethings. As aimless and directionless as today's music scene seems to be, there is so much beautiful music hiding between the cracks. Which is why I should probably go to more shows. But hey, I spend my money well by being choosey. My last three shows were these guys, The French Kicks, and The Walkmen. Can't fault me there, can ya?

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