The Decemberists have set themselves up again as touring legends. They filled their set at the Ogden Theatre with tracks from “The King is Dead,” their latest and best-selling release. Singles like “Down by the Water” were taken care of early on, and as things revved up the song choice was a grab bag of the band’s decade-long, increasingly diverse repertoire.
The show started with a recorded voiceover introduction by Portland mayor, Sam Adams. It was a cute, goofy (two words that describe a large portion of the concert) mood-setter that might as well have been written by Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen. The banter between songs was relaxed and very funny. Meloy kept comparing the Ogden crowd’s singing to their previous gig in Boulder in a winking way. I could barely hear the people sarcastically booing over the laughter he was getting. He even went so far as to split the response chorus in “Sixteen Military Wives” between people from Boulder and those from Denver– a very clever ribbing that everyone appreciated. Meloy even changed lyrics to reflect his onstage observations and kept it all extremely loose, which was another big plus.
A comment I heard several times throughout the night was how uncharacteristically well-mixed this show was. I guess that’s been an issue with the Decemberists’ complex levels before. Kudos are due to the Ogden staff, who kept the sound clear in what seemed like an over-capacity floor. It was easiest to hear the quality of their live sound during “The Rake’s Song” which takes big, dynamic swings. That was the showmanship highlight of the night. Meloy and bassist Nate Query handled the handful of chords while the remaining four Decemberists laid into floor toms around the stage.
It was great to see a band have so much fun. The best example of their playful attitude was in their first encore when they played the fan favorite “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” I’m guessing they usually get fairly theatrical when they play it, but that word understates the hammy overacting that had the audience in stitches. Meloy was deftly prancing around the stage making Jenny Conlee break “character” during her consumption-ridden, revenge-seeking mother scenes. The whole band began sliding their instruments around the stage as they were being shipwrecked in a manner I can only describe as Aquabats silliness. Another short encore ending with “June Hymn” wrapped things up nicely.
The Decemberists are loved so deeply by their fans. Fans who only know the early stuff, those who just found out about the band, the “Decemberheads” who’ve never missed a concert — they all gather ‘round for the same reason. My grand theory is that every fan sees the Decemberists the same way, if from different angles. The Decemberists are like your cooler older sister. For millennials, I guess that would be Judy Funnie. Denise Huxtable for Gen-X, maybe. She’s into music you haven’t heard yet, she’s effortlessly stylish, she can make cruel personal jokes about you but her ultra-cool maturity makes you feel special that she’s engaging you directly at all. She’s everything you want to be when you grow up, and deep down, you know she loves you back which makes you proud to be associated with her at all.
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat, and is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Dave Gannon is a Denver photographer and new contributor to Reverb.