The Decemberists, Spoon at Red Rocks Amphitheatre (photos, review)

By Matt Miller and Ricardo Baca

There’s a reason Red Rocks tickets clearly state “rain or shine.” Because even during a sudden lightning-highlighted monsoon, taking refuge in your car is only a strong suggestion.


A co-headlining bill of Spoon and the Decemberists bookended a 40-minute rain delay that sent the Red Rocks crowd fleeing for shelter on Wednesday. But not everyone. As many sought safety in cars or in the visitor’s center, some brave (or crazy?) fans stuck stubbornly to their seats waiting it out.

Only an hour and a half before the downpour, Courtney Barnett played a smart set to a growing crowd, clear-ish skies and a pleasant sunset. Perhaps daunted by the towering amphitheatre, Barnett seemed a little stiff on stage — certainly not her laid back usual self in more comfortable confines of small clubs. But nerves aside, Barnett and her band played through tracks from her debut and earlier EPs admirably. Like the scrappy newcomer, she showed the fans there to see the Decemberists that you don’t need to cram high-brow literary references into your lyrics to write an intelligent song … maybe “Pulp Fiction” and Jackson Pollock references, though.

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As the clouds and intermittent drizzles began to threaten, Spoon kicked off its set pretty promptly at 8 p.m. with “Rent I Pay,” the opening track from its latest album. Frontman Britt Daniel tried early on to get the crowd going quickly — jumping off the drum platform, running over to add in delicate piano lines and kneeling near the audience — but this set would take a while to get going. Spoon moved forward with a well-balanced selection of new and old material, yet still the biggest bursts of energy from the audience only came with particularly nasty flashes of lightning.

Maybe it was that the sun needed to fade to put Spoon’s light show — with disco balls, polaroid-like silhouettes and warm glows — into full effect, or maybe the band was just slow to burn on Wednesday. But by the time Spoon hit “Do You” mid-set, the band had finally found its punch. From there, quick bursts of dark-ish freak outs, echoey extended bridges and patient crunchy noodling highlighted the texture of the set as Spoon continued with a middle section that included “Knock, Knock, Knock,” “Don’t Make Me a Target,” “I Summon You” and “I Turn My Camera On.” With a stripped down — and at points, a capella — “The Underdog”, Spoon ended its set for what should have been a brief break for an encore.

But instead of Spoon coming back on stage a few minutes later, it was Red Rocks staff telling the crowd to take shelter for a big storm coming in.

After about an hour’s rain delay (and a hilariously humid and sardine-like scene in the amphitheater’s indoor visitor center), the Decemberists took the stage with frontman Colin Meloy promising the crowd a “special” set. Meloy started the set alone on the stage with the poignant opening words of “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” which is also the first song on the band’s new “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.” The rest of the band slowly joined Meloy as the song grew into a full-band piece, and it became quickly evident that Meloy likely wrote that song to be performed in such a manner.

Another new song, “Cavalry Captain,” immediately followed. But it wasn’t until a few jams later that the soggy crowd came to life via the jangly, R.E.M.-like intro to “Calamity Song.” The song is one of the band’s all-time best, and before he jumped into the track Meloy gave the crowd some endearing insight to its origins. It turns out Meloy first came up with the song’s soaring “ah-oooooooohs” years ago when he was singing to his then-4-year-old son to eat his oatmeal.

It was a sweet moment, and Meloy’s smooth transition into the actual song ignited the audience.

The band certainly had its moments on Wednesday, but there were also times when its literate, plodding ballads weren’t quite enough to keep the still-wet crowd fully captivated. The new single “Make You Better” wasn’t a favorite of mine going into their Red Rocks show, and their live performance of the song hardly changed my mind. And while it’s very sweet and completist to play the entire “Crane Wife” suite in its entirety, skipping the first couple in favor of the excellent third part would have been an ideal move in the live setting.