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Photos by Mark Suppanz
Decemberists shows are always filled with unexpected surprises, and with seven terrific albums and numerous EPs for the Portland, OR theatrical troupe to plunder from, it’s never a good idea to skip one. So although I just saw the band play NYC’s Beacon Theatre in April (my ninth time overall since 2004), I cheerfully coughed up the clams five months later to catch them again at this equally historic Manhattan venue. My resolve was rewarded right from the get-go, as dapperly-dressed frontman Colin Meloy, standing alone in front of Radio City’s imposing red curtain, opened with two rarely-played nuggets from 2003’s Five Songs EP, “The Apology Song” and “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist.” And just as he launched into a few bars of what looked to be a third solo acoustic tune, “The Crane Wife 3,” the curtain rose to reveal the full band (and a colorful, seventh LP What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World-themed stage backdrop), to thunderous applause.
Nate Query, Colin Meloy, John Moen
Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Chris Funk
Taking advantage of Radio City’s spacious, enveloping sound, the band filled most of the main set’s first half with luxurious, lithesome lovelies like the accordion-laced (courtesy pianist Jenny Conlee, back in the lineup after recovering from breast cancer) “Leslie Anne Levine,” the radiant, sweeping “On the Bus Mall,” and the jazzy, twinkly “Lake Song” (heightened by Chris Funk’s ascending, searching guitar). And with Pope Francis holding court a mile away in Central Park, Meloy had plenty of papal-related puns, like when he thanked us by mimicking a grateful flight attendant, “We know that you have plenty of entertainment choices in NYC.” Then, after introducing the jaunty “Billy Liar” as “the second dirtiest song I ever wrote,” he diabolically dedicated it to the pontiff, “because of all the popes in history he’d maybe be the one most likely to chuckle…before I was condemned.” As at the Beacon show, “Liar” was turned into one of Meloy’s patented crowd participation experiments, as he chopped the audience into three sections, assigned us each a choral cue, and directed us like a comical classical conductor!
It wasn’t until midway through the main set that the band dove into a few of their weightier, more rocking songs, like the rousing “Make You Better” (which finally got us to disengage our derrieres from Radio City’s marshmallow-soft seats) and harmonica-flecked “Down By the Water.” But just as the blood began flowing through our gelatinous glutes, Meloy momentarily went mellow again, on the swampy-blues solo “Carolina Low” – helped by the haunting backing coos of Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor – and the unfamiliar, uplifting “Why Would I Now?”, from the fresh-off-the-presses Florasongs EP. They then closed the main set with three more energizing, elevating bashers: the horn-fueled “Cavalry Captain,” dashing “O Valencia!”, and tumultuous “The Chimbley Sweep.” On the latter, the band friskily played their instruments off each other like the dueling banjos in Deliverance, before all falling one-by-one to the floor in faked fatigue.
Bringing back memories of their June 2009 Radio City show, in which they triumphantly played that year’s classic concept LP The Hazards of Love in full, the group revisited a portion of that album for the nearly half-hour-long first encore. It comprised a “medley” of the album’s first four tracks (highlighted by the potent-piped Hogan’s reprising of Becky Stark’s co-lead vocal on the clomping “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)”), along with the pounding “The Rake’s Song” (featuring Conlee, Funk, and Hogan thumping turbulently on tribal drums) and tender, pedal steel-shaded closer “The Hazards of Love 4.” The meditative mood continued for the shorter second encore, as Meloy harmonized heavenly with Hogan and O’Connor for the gentle “Of Angels and Angles,” before the band, again enhanced by Funk’s pretty pedal steel, finally finished with the captivating, country-flecked “Dear Avery.” As this peerless performance proved, glimpsing a papal motorcade was not the only way for New Yorkers to experience divine intervention on this night.
I wasn’t sure at first what to make of Brooklyn openers Lucius. Two come-hither, comparatively-cloaked (in loosely-draped yellow dresses), closely-cropped hairdo’ed female vocalists/keyboardists resembling matching Greek muses, backed by three debonairly-bedecked dudes, who provided spare guitars and stripped-down yet stomping percussion? Surely we would be witnessing some all-style, no-substance novelty act? But like first LP Pipettes, the quintet’s musical moxie belied their gimmicky guise. Singing every line synchronously, Berklee grads Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig silenced us scoffers with their soaring serenading, especially on the delectable dance-pop of “Turn it Around,” the belting ballad “Don’t Just Sit There,” and a rootsy cover of Canadian husband and wife duo Ian & Sylvia’s 1964 “You Were on My Mind” (also a 1965 #3 hit for San Francisco folk rockers We Five). ✪
Lucius: Holly Laessig, Jess Wolfe
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