Last night, Sam, Nick, Larry and I went to Knoxville to see The Decemberists at the Tennessee Theatre.
That was easily the coolest thing I've ever seen. Period. Really.
The trip started out with some minor hiccups - like the exit we were supposed to take being closed to the point of non-existence and the fact that there's really not much in the way of restaurants (that we could find) in downtown Knoxville.
Once at the theatre, however, it was awesome. We were there plenty early and so stopped at the table at which they were selling stuff. I got a spiffy, blue Decemberists t-shirt - which was, in fact, a goal of mine. :)
The theatre itself is beautiful. Very ornately decorated and old-fashioned looking - yet with a modern twist of having some very cool color-changing cove lights which illuminated various alcoves and borders. It occurred to Sam and I that its style really seemed to go well with the band.
The opening act was My Brightest Diamond. I thoroughly enjoyed their performance - though I have to say, I think I prefer the energy and attitude she has on stage to their somewhat mellower recordings of the same songs.
At about 9, the Decemberists came on stage. As I said before, their show was amazing. Every member of the band played at least two different instruments - and most played three or more. Its one thing for a band to have dramatic instrumentation on their recordings - it's another thing to watch them do it all in a live show. I have an even greater appreciation for their musical talent. Their live performance easily sounds just as good as their albums, if not better.
They played mostly songs from Picaresque and The Crane Wife - with a few others thrown in. They brought out the singer from My Brightest Diamond to sing with them on Yankee Bayonet (one of my favorite songs of theirs). I always think it's cool when artists collaborate like that.
The most notable song I suppose was the Mariner's Revenge - which they played as an encore. They had wrapped up their performance and left the stage but, at our continued prompting, returned for one last song.
For those of you who don't know the song, it tells the story of a boy who goes off in search of a man who betrayed his mother some years earlier. He eventually catches up with him on the high seas, only for all of them to be swallowed by a whale.
Colin (the lead singer) told us that we had to supply the sound effects of a multitude of people being swallowed by a whale - i.e., screaming - at the appropriate time when his bandmate directed us. Once that instruction was given, they began playing the song - which they essentially goofed-off their way through, but yet somehow played it flawlessly. I would do a poor job describing exactly how their stage antics went for this one, but I'll hit a couple of points to give you a hint:
The drummer was only playing a floor tom - which scooted across the stage in a random direction each time he hit it. At one point in the song where there was no drum line, he actually picked up the tom and put it over the head of the bass player, who continued playing the large stand-up bass he was holding. When the drummer took it off, the bass player pulled the bow out of the sheath on the bass and mimed stabbing him with it.
At a particular bridge in the song, the entire band sort of hopped side to side while playing the song in a sort of waltz time. It looked hilarious, yet fit the song and the band wonderfully.
At the point in the song where the characters are swallowed by the whale, we were directed to scream as a giant costumed whale plodded out onto the stage (didn't see this one coming...), engaged in a brief battle with the band members (most of whom continued to play the song while the lead guitar player pantomimed beating it with his guitar). The whale ate all the band members, who collapsed on the stage as the lights when out at the musical break at that point in the song.
The lights slowly returned as they played the rest of the song, at the end of which is a particular repetition of a musical phrase at faster and faster tempos - which they took to extremes not on the recorded version. The accordian player was quite tired at the end of that one.
I know why they played that song last: Nothing follows that.
I would highly recommend their show to anyone who is even passively amused by their particular style. They did a fantastic job. If/when they come back to Knoxville, I will be going if it's at all possible.