The Decemberists Took an Expansive Trip Through Their Catalog at the Majestic

The Decemberists
With Olivia Chaney
Majestic Theatre, Dallas
Friday, October 2, 2015

There were four phases to the Decemberists’ sold-out, two-hour set at Majestic Theatre on Friday night. The first part was a Colin Meloy solo set, then a lengthy portion of straightforward full-band material, then a full-on prog rock epic and finally, a goofy finish. The Majestic housed the whole Decemberists experience, and the 25 to 55 crowd certainly left satisfied.

After a delightful opening set of gentle folk by Olivia Chaney, Meloy came out in a gray suit, holding a glass of wine. Looking like a Zach Galifianakis body double with his thick beard and wavy haircut, Meloy had a big smile on his face and was clearly in a good mood. Starting with “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist,” he had immediate rapport with the crowd, telling short but funny stories about the inspirations for the songs he played. As he sang “Tickle My Thumb” over the “Red Right Ankle” chords and “Hank Eat Your Oatmeal” over the “Calamity Song” chords, the audience laughed.

The rest of the Portland-based five piece eventually joined in and played material that spanned their entire catalog. The band have an advantage in that they can pull out material from 10 years ago and it stands up well to material they released in 2015. Whether it was brainy folk, pirate ship tales or unabashed progressive rock, everything held together nicely. No other band out there can sound like a mixture of R.E.M., the Smiths, XTC, Yes, Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull, but that’s what the Decemberists have managed over the years, especially from The Crane Wife on.
With Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan, both acclaimed solo artists themselves, on hand to provide backing vocals, Meloy's singing had the perfect accompaniment. Guitarist Chris Funk played minimal-yet-effective leads, bassist Nate Query and drummer John Moen held tightly together and organist/accordionist Jenny Conlee gave the songs extra coloring.

The first hour of their set flew by, and everyone was on their feet during “O Valencia!” Returning to the stage after a brief break, the band played selections from their ambitious Hazards of Love album. Believe it or not, the crowd stayed on their feet throughout the entire portion. They weren't as spunky as “O Valencia!” but the crowd loved it.

Leaving the stage again (and again quickly returning), Meloy got very serious before introducing “A Beginning Song.” Mentioning the Umpqua Community College campus shooting on Thursday, Meloy urged the audience to contact their elected representatives and to connect more deeply with loved ones. It was a soapbox moment, but it was sincere and honest.

Leaving and returning one final time, Meloy then delivered “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” The multi-part opus, complete with the entire band being eaten by a killer whale cut-out (along with the crowd’s interpretation of being eaten by said whale), certainly ended things on a positive note.

Set list:
“My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist”
“Red Right Ankle”
“The Crane Wife 3”
“Calamity Song”
“The Wrong Year”
“Till the Water’s All Long Gone”
“All Arise!”
“Make You Better”
“Why Would I Now”
“Carolina Low”
“Better Not Wake the Baby”
“Down by the Water”
“Cavalry Captain”
“O Valencia!”
“The Chimbley Sweep”
“The Hazards of Love 1”
“The Rake’s Song”
“The Hazards of Love 4”
“A Beginning Song”
“Dear Avery”
“The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

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