What It Was Like: The Decemberists, The Avett Brothers, Heartless Bastards

This was the big, obvious event of the night -- a packed yard at Stubb's, plenty of production from the NPR-backed show, and no huge surprises. Just a few great live acts we all know, proving they deserve it.

Band: The Decemberists, Wednesday night at Stubb's
Where: Stubb's
What it was like: Someone behind the counter at the record store turning to you and saying, "I will now sell 500 copies of "Hazards of Love" by the Decemberists."
Verdict: A day after releasing their latest album, the Decemberists topped the bill for the NPR Music showcase, and put on a great big, sweeping show. The set lasted a little over an hour, full of thrilling moments where the epic slow jams built into big, rocking peaks. Colin Meloy's nasally, over-enunciated lyrics were distinctive as ever, but the real stars of the show were Shara Worden (the Denton product behind My Brightest Diamond) and Becky Stark (of Lavender Diamond), who play on the Decemberists' new album. With Stark blissed-out in a white flower-child getup, and Worden in black, looking kind of sinister, the two women added an amazing new element to the show. Best moment of the set: Stark and Jenny Conlee, viciously drumming side-by-side on "The Rake's Song."
Random Note: NPR has been doing plenty to hype the band's new album, including streaming it online ahead of its release. According to the warning signs posted everywhere, if you stepped under the shadow of the UFO-looking canopy by the stage, you were pretty much guaranteed to end up in some NPR online video feature.

Band: The Avett Brothers (They're acutally brothers. Two of them, anyway.)
Where: Stubb's, again

What It Was Like: An episode of Dr. Phil with musical guests
Verdict: In a short set, the Avetts gave a great representation of just what they do -- they rocked out, screaming, kicking and twirling their instruments for a few catchy banjo tunes. Then the four-piece set stripped it down, including a number with only Scott and Seth Avett onstage, singing about which of the brothers dad liked best. Their closer, "I and Love and You," is full of simple, universal kind of lyrics -- "The highway sets the traveler's stage / All exits look the same" -- with quick hints at a story of real people in relationships that are much more complicated.
Random Note: The Jonas Brothers opted to play themselves in their recent 3D film adventure--totally presumptuous. For the Avett Brothers movie, whenever that happens, I'm making these picks: Luke Wilson and Ethan Hawke as the Brothers Avett, and Peter Gallagher as Bob Crawford on the upright bass. Cellist Joe Kwon is too much of a badass for anyone else to play, but I'd like to see Downey Jr. give it a try.

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Band: Heartless Bastards
Where: I was still at Stubb's. Actually, these guys played before the other two.
What It Was Like: A big old classic Detroit ride, bright red like lead singer Erike Wennerstrom's dress, with a deep rumble like her voice over power guitars.
Verdict: A fine show, though it can't hold a candle to either of the sets that followed. Erika Wennerstrom did it all on lead vocals, keyboards and guitar -- but the band really took on a unique presence with her strumming an acoustic guitar, kicking across the stage in her red dress and leather boots. Those moments made for a great tempo shift to round out a set full of hard-driving guitar lines and Wennerstrom's gravelly growl.
Random Note: Someone in the crowd behind me kept talking about how psyched they were to check out "Natalie Portman's Bad Haircut" later on this week. The band's called Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, but I think I like the other way better.

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