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The Decemberists @ The Warfield, 11/25/08

November 26, 2008

“You’d better hurry, they just went on stage!” It’s 9pm, which seems early to me, but apparently The Decemberists don’t run on rock ‘n roll time. It’s night two of my manfriend’s indie rock run, and while I am familiar enough with ‘The Engine Driver’ to know that it makes me very sad, I do not know one other Decemberists song.

It was a packed house, with a crowd that spanned the ages from teeny bopper to gray hair. As I prepared to be slightly bored by a nice performance from a nice band, the girl in front of me scarily fainted flat out on the floor. From then on, the show dealt surprise after surprise for me (all much better than that one).


During lead singer Colin Meloy’s first words to the crowd, the crazy fan-borderline-heckler was established, who would provide an additional layer of entertainment throughout the show, particularly because she was standing in front of me:

Colin Meloy: “Look at all of your beautiful faces!”
Crazy Fan Heckler: “I love you!”
CM: “Yes, I see your beautiful face. Among all of these beautiful faces!”
CFH: “But I want to be the only one!”
CM: “Uh-huh”

The first thing I learned about The Decemberists is that it’s really all about Colin Meloy. I don’t know why the band name is even plural. Not that they aren’t capable musicians wielding an array of rarely seen instruments, but it was only at the end that they became anything but a backdrop.

Crowd participation was key to the performance, as we were called upon to clap, hum series of notes, and scream, often divided up by section and given different instructions. We were reminded of our recent political event, as Meloy said “Yes We Can”, we were instructed to say “Yes We Did” and went through several rounds of that. This kind of thing only works when your crowd is obedient and largely intelligent. Most shows I go to have an IQ range wider than the Grand Canyon, and disobedience is kind of the point. It almost worked too well. As the crazy fan heckler tried to make herself stand out in one of these moments- he looked at her and said “except you”. And she obeyed. There were not one, but two points where the audience was told to hug each other, and they did.

Songs often got nice little introductions, making me draw comparisons to Dave Grohl as a lead singer. Everything was funny and/or insightful. Sometimes little musical interludes entertained us between songs- the best one being a short cover of the chorus to Dreams.

Early on, two notes were thrown on stage near Meloy from adoring fans. “Will you be my engine driver?” and what looked like a charcoal drawing- “Is that Obama?” he asked. Then he took the opportunity to tell people not to throw anything else on stage. And the crowd obeyed.

While The Decemberists are decidedly un-rock ‘n roll in my opinion, there were some moments within the set. Meloy played guitar while lying on his back (but it was an acoustic, mind you). At one point, it almost looked like he was going to crowd surf, as he jumped down and stood on the barrier and leaned up against some fans. He grabbed and sang into someone’s phone. He tossed picks to the crowd. And sometimes they stretched out songs too long.


The last song of the encore, ‘The Mariner’s Revenge’, transitioned the band, well, into a band. While the rest of the set was Meloy telling us stories, this was the band telling us- actually showing us- a story. It was very folksy but highly entertaining. The band came forward, the female member sang a bit, they danced while playing their instruments…it was quite the culmination of the show.


I came to understand the magic of The Decemberists. While I usually judge a crowd’s enthusiasm by how loud they are, how wild they get, I can understand the crowd’s quiet enthusiasm for this band. It was the perfect thing to see going into holiday season, when my life could use a little family-friendly style music. Perhaps I’ll add them to my ipod for the next time my mom is in the car with me.

Set List:
Shanty for the Arethusa
July, July
Billy Liar
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
Valerie Plame
Record Year
The Engine Driver
On the Bus Mall
Days of Elaine
The Perfect Crime #2
Culling of the Fold
Dracula’s Daughter
O Valencia!
16 Military Wives
Sons and Daughters

California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade
Mariners Revenge

OVERALL: 8.75/10
The Decemberists performance: 9/10
venue (The Warfield): 8.5/10
crowd/scene: 8.5/10
value ($30/ticket): 8.75/10
memorable: 8.75/10


  1. I was actually at this concert (and judging by your pictures, standing about 40 feet to the right of you). The first time I had seen The Decemberists, I had never really heard of them. They were endorsed by a friend who said “Since you like happy sounding music with depressing lyrics and big fancy words (IE Steely Dan) you’ll like them.” Needless to say, Decemberists are nothing like Steely Dan. They’re unique in their own right and any comparision you can make to them is a bit of a stretch.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for bands that tackle difficult or unusual subject matter. Rush has songs about evolutionary biology, Pink Floyd has it’s trippy stuff and here’s Colin Meloy singing about the seige of Leningrad. Props to him.

    I’m glad you had fun. To your list of Decemberists songs, I’d add “Sporting Life.” Also, “Engine Driver” is one of the best makeout songs ever.

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