The Decemberists, 5.20.09

I wasn’t insanely thrilled with the Decemberists’s new album, Hazards of Love, when it came out last month. It was a solid B+, okay? That’s how I felt.

But, as is the case with most brilliant performers, the live version was better. Like, way better. The band took a different and kind of disorienting approach to this concert, playing the new album straight through sans witty comment breaks, which was probably insanely tiring. We also found out after the intermission, another foreign element of the show, that Colin Meloy may or may not have been bleeding for the second half of the performance of the album. See, he makes awesome sacrifices! What a man.

Anyway, Hazards is a concept album, rendering any live performance impotent without all its component parts. Luckily the Decemberists were fully aware of this rule and brought along the vocal prowesses of My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden and Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark (collectively and cutely “The Diamonds”β€”go figure). I know I’ve ranted and raved about Meloy’s incredibly dry, witty stage presence, which certainly came to life after the album run, but Worden clearly stole the show. The best way to describe her is sort of a cliche, but bear with me: She has tiny fists of fury. No, really. She’s tiny, like 5 foot 2 or something; she sort of skank-punch-dances around on the stage and fist-pumps occasionally; and her voice exudes a madness, a fury that seems impossible coming from such a small person. But it’s there and it’s magnificent. The contrast between her melancholy alto and Stark’s flighty soprano is even more beautiful, and it makes for fun characterization with regards to the whimsical story told on the album.

After the break, they resumed the “normal” part of the show, playing such Crane Wife classics as “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” “Dracula’s Daughter / O Valencia!,” “The Crane Wife 3” and “Sons & Daughters.” I must admit that that last one always pisses me off a little because they make it into a round, and I sort of hate rounds. Oh, well. Complain, complain. They also played a few throwbacks, “Grace Cathedral Hill” and “We Both Go Down Together,” and cut in with a country cover (“If I Could Only Win Your Love”) and a newbie (“Sleepless”). But, just in case the quirkiness was not made obvious, they ran into the audience for “A Cautionary Song” and reenacted the story of the Donner Party. All in a day’s work.

Oh, I should probably mention THAT THE FOX THEATER IN OAKLAND IS MY NEW FAVORITE PLACE TO BE. I understand that I said this about the Warfield, but you know what? It’s time for a new favorite, dammit. The Warfield has history, and admittedly all those cool posters and images from performances past, but the Fox is cleaner, bigger, prettier and just all-around sexier. You leave with your ears ringing, but not in a painful wayβ€”the sound is distributed so evenly and perfectly in the venue that it envelops you but does not overwhelm. And you are able to talk to your friends afterward without using up your obligatory “HUH????” quota. It’s easy to get to, it’s got a sweet bar on the inside, it seats more people and it’s closer to the East Bay. What could be better? Don’t answer that question.