I’m a grumpy old git, no question; ever more curmudgeonly as the years accrue. Even more prone to shouting at the telly than before. But still…
I went to see the splendid Decemberists last week, giving a graceful run through of their What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World record. I did see them last time they came to the UK and I remember being pretty underwhelmed, although again they had a great record in The King is Dead to showcase. I’d obviously forgotten all this when I jumped at the offer of a ticket for the Birmingham leg of the tour.
I actually wrote a curmudgeonly post for the evening the next day, but in the grips of an oncoming flu I was a bit more negative than I’d want to be really, so I deleted it. The gist of it was:
- Not a fan of audience participation
- Upstairs at the Institute is not a great place to see a band
- Some of the tracks on the new record sound like ABC
- I don’t feel very well
Harsh, and a little unfair.
The Decemberists, the Institute
The Institute is a grand old theatre with many original features and a fine 3-sided balcony. It would no doubt be a lovely old place to see quiet, reflective music, in the style of St George’s in Bristol. Unfortunately, last week it was rammed with steely-eyed middle-aged punters, all of whom seemed to know that you need to get in early for a decent spot (rather than, say, getting stuck in traffic and then having a couple in the pub next door). It was particularly daft in the balcony, where people were stood five or six deep to peer over the balustrade (there’s a good Melloy word…)
I should say that I do like the new record a lot, Colin Melloy really is a great songsmith, but I’m not a fan of the way some of the songs are arranged. I reckon “Cavalry Captain” sounds like an ABC number (and btw don’t let anyone fool you into thinking this a good thing…); and the faux-doo wop sound grafted onto “Philomena” just irritates the hell out of me. (I found myself wondering if there’s a bit more democracy going on within the band – a bit more input from the other musicians, maybe. My money’s on that bloody drummer…)
I’m well aware that I’m coming on like one of the hipsters that Melloy is patiently addressing on the opener, but I guess I prefer the simpler accordion and harmonica and double bass sounds of Castaways and Cutouts. I wish you hadn’t changed…
(And don’t even get me started on audience participation, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” and general on stage tomfoolery…)
Actually, “Cavalry Captain” was a one of the highlights of what was still a pretty good evening and the tinnier elements of the record seemed to vanish in the whole band experience. They played for a good hour and a half, maybe more, giving good account of the recent records and dipping confidently into their impressive back catalogue (although regrettably not Grace Cathedral Hill). They were jolly, passionate about their songs and there was not quite as much silliness as last time I saw them. I was moderately-whelmed, shall we say.
Considering the circumstances – too far up, too far back, too many people coming backwards and forwards (honestly, at times it was like sitting in the Buildbase at Kingsholm…), the recordings are much better than I had a right to expect, and certainly, as ever, worth a listen:
and, in the interests of fairness:
(Now I must get onto those Ultimate Painting recordings, they’re really worth it…)