Beards, Blazers & Glasses-The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, Band of Horses @ The Hollywood Bowl
My best friend hates The Decemberists because he thinks their green screen challenge was a cynical attempt to exploit Stephen Colbert's popularity. Another friend is driven to fits of rage because Decemberists front-man Colin Meloy's faux-Anglo accent contorts simple words like "Crane" into a polysyllabic jumble that spelled phonetically would read something like: craaaaaaahhhhhaaaaayyyyaaaaaannnnnneeeee. (give or take an "e" or two). And I'm sure if you really looked hard enough you could find dozens of reasons to dislike the Decemberists (six of which involve Herman Melville).
I'd totally agree too, if not for the fact that the Decemberists are really really good. Of course, this isn't news. They've been around for five years, dropped four alums, signed to Capitol, and managed to come at #12 on the year-end list of your all your favorite misanthropic weed-head bloggers. But still, there's something about Meloy that puts people off. On-stage, he hides behind a pair of faux-dorky plastic glasses suggesting playground outcast made good. He valiantly tries to rock out but always looks forced and contrived, limbs flailing with stiff and wooden gestures reminiscent of the scene in Austin Powers when Dr. Evil mechanically performs the "macarena"
And then there's his anachronistic and hopefully erudite lyrics which reek of "I'm smart and I know it" arrogance.
But it's cool. Dude's got a right to be cocky. From the start,The Crane Wife was a concept filled with over-ambition and literary conceit. After all, prog-rock epics about Japanese folk tales aren't supposed to make for good listening. But somehow, Meloy pulled it off--flawlessly. With Crane, the 33-year old former creative writing student finally learned how to seamlessly stitch together the mess of ideas in his head, from orchestras constructed on the cheap, to his graceful and labored-over lyrics, to the years of music geekery Meloy spent as a teenager in Montana pair of headphones strapped onto his head, listening to Replacements records (he wrote the 33 1/3rd book on Let it Be)
headlining at the Bowl was certainly a crowning moment for Meloy. And backed by the entire Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Decemberists made the most of it, delivering a memorable and virtuoso set, plucking gems off of each of their four records to be fleshed out in fantastic color by the orchestra. A consummate professional, Meloy was able to maximize his advantages and minimize his short-comings, sounding fantastic, stretching syllables to brobdingnagian proportion, voice bouncing smoothly off the Bowl's natural amphitheater. "The Crane Wife" felt monstrous and epic. "O Valencia" swelled to great heights buoyed by the Phil's fluttering strings. "Infanta" made several young hipsters rush off to join the nearest infanta (look in San Pedro, guys.)
Anyhow, the contradiction inherent in the Decemberists was best illustrated by one of the night's highlights, their performance of "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," off of Her Majesty, the Decemberists. As Duke aptly put it: "hearing someone from Portland sing 'its hollowness will haunt you,” and “How I abhor you” about our city seems like a little bit of a fuck you. It’s especially biting when you consider that it’s one of the few songs where Meloy’s not singing from the perspective of an 18th century sea captain....Do you think that after the show, as they read Chaucer on their tour bus, they occasionally glance up from their books and share a laugh about how they got 14,000 Angelinos to sing along to those lyrics? I do."
I do too. But right now, the Decemberists are having the last laugh. And you can't deny that it's truly deserved. Few bands around are as capable of delivering complete and fully realized performances, both live and in the studio. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Meloy is one of the finest writers in rock. Even if Stephen Colbert's still roughly a thousand times cooler.
Andrew Bird: Nearly as good as Larry, Admiral, & Tweety Bird I've seen Andrew Bird once before and it never ceases to amaze me how talented of a performer he is, playing the violin, the xylophone and the guitar, all of them with great skill, often in the same track. Plus, the guy is a world-champion caliber whistler and just writes fantastic songs. The set was evenly split between 05's excellent, Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs, and this year's comparably good, Armchair Apocrypha. It was all over pretty quickly, just 45 minutes or so, but Bird deservedly won himself a whole lot of new fans. I would've liked to have heard, "Fake Palindromes," my personal favorite of Bird's tunes, but I can't complain.
Davey Crockett and his cousin. I mentioned how I liked Band of Horses, to which his cousin pointed at the bartender and informed me that I'd just ordered a beer from Bridwell. That's keeping it real. Either way, BoH was slotted right at the program's 7:30 start time and while the crowd was only 60 percent full, those that were there saw a very impressive performance from a very solid band, one deserving of the hype thrown their way.
See Also You Set the Scene's review of the Show
Photos via Anclroo
MP3: The Decemberists-"The Crane Wife 1 & 2" (actual crane not included)
MP3: Andrew Bird-"Heretics"
MP3: Band of Horses-"The Funeral"
MP3: Band of Horses-"The Great Salt Lake" (John Stockton not included)