Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Decemberists

Phenomenal – it’s the only word that adequately describes The Decemberists’ riveting performance with Caitlin Rose at the Ryman Auditorium Saturday. From beginning to end, this show was unshakably captivating.

It’s not common to go to a show and be utterly blown away by the opener, but Nashville-born Caitlin Rose proved herself capable of doing just that. Her voice is almost reminiscent of Zooey Deschanel, beautiful and pure. She proved just how talented she is by closing her 30-minute opening act without a microphone and just on acoustic guitar. The drop of a pin would have rung out loudly that night as the audience sat in silent awe of such an incredible voice.

Then came the main event – a five-person indie rock band out of Portland, Oregon, The Decemberists were about to take the stage. The Decemberists are comprised of front man Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, John Moen, Nate Query and Jenny Conlee, who unfortunately is not touring with the band right now due to a battle with breast cancer. Temporarily replacing Conlee on this tour is Sara Watkins of the band Nickel Creek. The quintet captured the attention of everyone in the house during their two-and-a-half-hour set.

Before The Decemberists even hit the stage, a public service announcement instructed audience members to introduce themselves to the person sitting to their left, then the person to their right. With the audience comfortably acquainted, the announcement instructed them to close their eyes and imagine being in a rain forest. Now thoroughly relaxed, the audience was ready for the show as The Decemberists took the stage.

Before the band launched into their first song, Meloy jokingly warned the audience, "You are not at the Keith Urban concert. If you meant to be at the Keith Urban concert, you will be thoroughly disappointed."

The Decemberists opened their set with the song "Oceanside," and the crowd enjoyed the first handful of songs completely seated until Meloy addressed the audience, reassuring them that it was OK to stand up. From that point on, the atmosphere completely changed. What started off as a timid crowd was transformed into an extremely animated, eager audience.

Meloy, it turns out, is not only a talented musician but a jokester as well. He interacted jovially with the crowd and sipped red wine between songs. He told everyone how excited he was to have his family with him for this show and then added, "My son is probably the one sitting in the balcony playing on his iPad during the show."

The band made a point to direct people to their merch table, where they were selling $5 pins to honor Conlee in her fight against breast cancer.

As the night progressed, the audience’s enthusiasm seemed to escalate. Meloy’s energy transferred to the crowd and kept everyone entertained. He got down in the audience twice. Once, he jumped down with his guitar and started playing and singing, and the other time he came down to find someone to two-step with him.

Things really started to heat-up when, after a little two-stepping, Meloy belted out Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” To go along with a bluesy theme, Moen (the drummer) and Meloy switched places. Moen came out and teased the audience, telling them that he had had a bad day and was subsequently “forced to torture” the audience, which led into him lying on the floor of the stage and singing the blues.

As the concert came to a conclusion, The Decemberists ended with “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” and the audience swayed from left to right. For a moment it felt like the Ryman had transformed into a pirate ship, filled with a bunch or drunken sailors conducting a sing-along.

The night ended with an “homage to summer,” as Meloy referred to it, encoring with the beautiful “June Hymn,” a fitting end to a beautiful and musical summer evening.

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