The Decemberists Put on a Career-Spanning Show at Radio City

September 28th, 2015

The Decemberists – Radio City Music Hall – September 25, 2015

In what was definitely a first for me: I missed some an opening act due to, um, Pope-related delays. Thankfully, His Holiness only provided a minor detour on my way to Radio City Music Hall on Friday night, and I was able to catch the second half of Lucius’ set with high-wire harmonies and percussive melodies stretching across songs old, new and covered. While the Pontiff was holding court a few blocks away, if you were looking to anoint a Pope of indie rock, you could do a lot worse than electing Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. Within seconds of walking out solo from behind the curtain, playing alone with an acoustic guitar, he was heartfelt, funny, ironic, literate and witty. The opening solo numbers had him rhyming “Steven” with “grieving” and providing mid-song meta-commentary (“This is where the guitar solo would go”) in “The Apology Song” and filling the curvature of the ceiling with his warbling, true voice in “My Mother Was a Trapeze Artist.” By the time the curtain came up and the band kicked in on “The Crane Wife 3,” Meloy announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Decemberists” to the crowd’s delight, you may as well have given him a funny hat.

It was a worthwhile start to the mass of sorts that played out in the historic room. While finishing a tour supporting their newest release, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, the band filled the better part of two hours with a career- and genre-spanning set, dipping into all corners of their extensive catalog. “Leslie Ann Levine,” off 2002’s Castaways and Cutouts, was equal parts beautiful, poignant and ridiculous, tastefully mixing pedal steel from Chris Funk and accordion from Jenny Conlee while Meloy spun his tale. The band performed in front of a snazzy patchwork backdrop that took on different colors and dimensions throughout the night depending on the lighting and mood, matching the Decemberists’ multifaceted array of talents as they wound through folk, rock, sea shanty and unique variations thereof. Meloy mentioned the Pope’s visit, dedicating the band’s “second dirtiest” song, “Billy Liar,” to him, the words “plays something familiar” resonating with the fans in the audience who yipped and sang along to the oh-I-love-this-song! set list. The new material shined as brightly as the old, “Lake Song” showing that the Decemberists transcend their fun, winking irony with gorgeous ethereal playing from Funk and Conlee, John Moen adding just enough shuffle on the drums.

Halfway through, Meloy invited everyone to sing along whenever they wanted and the crowd took it one step further, people, possessed by the indie spirit, getting up out of their seats in a ripple of energy from front to back and danced along to the highlight-filled core of the set, including “Make You Better” and a boisterous favorite, “O Valencia!” The encore featured a too-many-to-count handful of songs from 2009’s Hazards of Love, starting with Conlee on organ and the backup singers adding angelic harmonies in the evening’s true papal moment. The ensuing medley bounced around in a folk-metal-prog space that only the Decemberists inhabit, Meloy elevating, preaching in his own way, from his place on the indie-rock pulpit. —A. Stein | @Neddyo