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The Decemberists + Ratboys - Roadrunner (Boston) - May 2, 2024

7 May 2024

This is just a gut feeling and I haven’t meticulously cross-referenced the historical weather that coincides when The Decemberists come into town, but I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that the wet, cool weather that the PacNW is known for arrives right on schedule. Yep, the relative nice Spring day gave way to clouds and light rain about an hour before doors for the truly authentic experience.

Storied for their take on folk rock with deeply literary lyrics and evoking a feeling of years gone by, the core group of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen were augmented tonight by Lizzy Ellison and Victor Nash who both filled in with a variety of instruments as well as Ellison’s voice.

The quartet’s music sometimes teeters on the edge of too many ideas that put the songs in danger of toppling over like some ornate wedding cake, so tonight they decided to join the austerity program and got things going with a few acoustic songs. The second song, “Shankill Butchers,” sent audible waves of gasps throughout the crowd as devotees were treated to a rarity from 2006’s The Crane Wife.

“Don’t Carry It All” heralded the plugged-in portion of the set, and while no one will ever confuse them with Primitive Man or Godflesh, the band can definitely hit some rock solid riffage. “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid” was a prime example.

Of the new stuff, “Burial Ground” took on the familiar shape of a folk song with an eminently sing-a-long melody line, like their best work instantly recognizable but not a carbon copy of their or others’ prior work. The encore is also from their next record, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again and hearkens back to their epics, where the song stretches out into a suite of parts to create a sonic tapestry. At first listen I can’t say it stacks up to giants like “The Tain” or “The Island” but it’s certainly in that neighborhood and bears repeated listens for it to fully reveal itself. (That it starts in a very similar manner to Wilco’s “Passenger Side” is something I’ll need to work out on my own.)

Chicago’s Ratboys have opening duties on this tour, and the quartet had the look of a garage band that doesn’t mind jamming out like hippies occasionally. I prefer my Flying V guitar bodies to be put into shred rather than strum mode, but that’s a minor quibble as lead guitarist Dave Sagan got some good nasty tone from his Ibanez, looking like Jim Anchower’s second cousin in the process. And speaking of Wilco, I’ll get to see Ratboys once again at Solid Sound later this summer.