Monday, July 09, 2007

Decemberists in July, July!

Colin Meloy of the Decemberists limns that age when all we know of the world comes through words (it's a decidedly pre-television, perhaps even pre-film world). Romance is Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, childhood adversity overcome is Dickens, thrills and chills are sea tales cobbled together from the more active moments of Melville and Richard Henry Dana. Odd words themselves, like palanquin or fontanel, sat and dissolved on the tongue like the Eucharist of a church of something bigger we might belong to. All of that, for those of us who had this period of life, and are now long past it, and can see through it, only makes the ache of the group's swooning songs more palpable--for we feel for the characters in them (there are always characters in them) and for our own lost loser teen selves that once just felt so damn much.

Therefore the pairing of the Decemberists with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl this past Saturday night was more or less destined to happen. The show didn't disappoint, as the group played from throughout its catalog, even surprising with all 18 minutes of The Tain, a recording put out on a CD EP that is based on Irish mythology and might be what would happen if Seamus Heaney fronted a rock band (you know he'd love to sing the lines: "she's a salty little pisser / with your cock in her kisser / but now she's a will of her own").

Perhaps the epitome of the evening was "We Both Go Down Together," which seemed even more fated with the full orchestral push. It was practically too lush, not that the recorded version of the song lacks for dramatics (those descending piano chords of doom, that "exotic" gypsy violin), but with so much oomph you can't help but get washed along. Of course, that's the song's great trick, for Meloy's narrator is far from a sweetie; perhaps no date rape has been more excused/elided than the one in the lines "I laid you down in the grass of a clearing /You wept but your soul was willing." And I haven't even got into the class issues the song sneaks in, although you'd never guess there'd be room with all the free floating emotion accessed in a string-swept actualization of the cliche "I love you to death." In a word: complex.

There was a bit less room for the group's usual sense of humor given the arrangements meant the musical tains [sic] had to run on time. Meloy did advise, "If you ever get a rock band, try to play the Hollywood Bowl; this is really cool. They do have an open mic night here, don't they?" He also asked us to indulge him and all hold up our cell phones and that gave us the visual money shot to match the gorgeous music--each person his or her own brilliant blue star.

Opening act Band of Horses comes off a bit like Drive-By U-Haulers: They've got the three guitar attack but they use it for mass more than interplay or virtuosity. They're good, but still not quite more than the sum of their The Band filtered through alterna-80s influences.

Middle act Andrew Bird, however, awed with his ability to make up for not playing with the Phil by being a one-man orchestra all by himself. On any given song at any given moment he might be playing guitar or violin or mini-xylophone, singing, or whistling (he's a championship whistler, so can make like a theremin just with his lips). He was accompanied by a drummer/keyboardist and bassist/guitarist yet got an even fuller sound by fooling with loops like a latter-day Frippertronics master, thereby layering violin parts and keeping his shoeless feet busy at his pedals. All the action set his charmingly nervous songs of angst and apocalypse into better relief, if not release.

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Blogger Marty said...

Colin Meloy offers hope to all those students out there whose parents ask, "What the hell are you going to do with a degree in creative writing?" Nice post, George.

3:44 PM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks, Marty!

My answer to that parental question was, "Well, get another degree in creative writing!"

4:55 PM  
Blogger Tiffany said...

I was at that show. Isn't Andrew Bird the best! He needs to be seen in a small venue in order to be truly appreciated though.

8:41 AM  

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