The Decemberists, with Mountain Man
Monday, February 7, 2011
Better than: Any show they've done without "The Mariner's Revenge Song"
The Uptown hummed with hairpin harmonies last night when the Decemberists treated a packed house to a hefty two-hour set. It was an evening designed for the loyal Decemberists fan: lush and layered sound, funny crowd banter, impromptu dance numbers and SAT-worthy wordplay.
The luminous folk trio Mountain Man started the night off, sending impeccable harmonies reverberating through the Uptown's balconies and halls. Their sound was so pure, it managed to quiet the crowd, which was already full and ripe with anticipation for the main event. As they sang through a short, 30-minute set, the songbirds -- who at first glance seemed as frail and shy as forest deer -- held their own against the eager crowd. Mountain Man thanked everyone for the kind words they heard emanating from the throng, and at one point even offered to help someone jump their car after the show.
The highlight of their set came when Molly Erin Sarle asked the crowd, "Do you like to dip your french fries in your milkshakes?" The crowd cheered. She continued, "Well this song is about that, if you substituted french fries for ... well that's kind of raunchy."
After a fairly short set change, the Decemberists were introduced by a recording of Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, Oregon. Adams rambled on for a bit, asking the crowd to introduce themselves to strangers standing next to them, and having the floor and the balcony wave hello, back and forth. Finally, he asked everyone to close their eyes, and the Decemberists -- who had famed fiddler Sara Watkins in their lineup for the tour -- took to the stage with uproarious cheers.
They started their set with a solid, racing version of "The Infanta," off Picaresque. Colin Meloy effortlessly interacted with the crowd through his expressions as he played his guitar, often lifting it high in the air. Next were the two singles from their new album, The King Is Dead, "Down by the Water" and "Calamity Song." Meloy paused here to consider the band's state of bed-head: "Hey, it's a Monday. We have Mondays, too."
They continued to play through a set littered with old favorites and their new, more rustic songs. My favorite part of the night came when they played through a three-part set of songs from The Crane Wife, a series of songs that ebbs and flows like ocean currents. (It was also then that I considered how truly annoying it must be for musicians to play against a poorly clapping, off-beat crowd.)
After offering up what Meloy called "a little Kansas City jazz," the band launched into a bizarre version of "16 Military Wives." Meloy forgot some of the lines, but it was of no consequence; the crowd had it covered. He was redeemed, however, with an extended, rowdy version of their classic "The Chimbley Sweep." When the breakdown in the middle of the song came, Meloy lit off the stage, playing to a little boy in a wheelchair at the front of the stage, and then ascending to the side balcony where a handful of people were sitting. In the meantime, drummer John Moen came out from behind the drum kit to dance a little jig for the audience, and when Meloy returned to the stage, he took over drums while Moen sang. Together they managed to turn the song into a cover of the Outfield's "Your Love," and somehow dissolved the tune back into the original song. It was an epic set ending, and it left the crowd raucous and ready for the encore.
The last time the Decemberists came through Kansas City, the band failed to play its beloved encore of "The Mariner's Revenge Song," a number that asks the crowd to pretend to be eaten by a giant whale. This time, they did not disappoint. The Decemberists played through a long version of the song while pretending to die onstage. (Example: Bassist Nate Query played his upright while completely sprawled on the stage floor.) The Uptown crowd certainly got its money's worth after two hours and plenty of stage antics and audience participation. For a band that tours regularly, the Decemberists continue to bring a fresh show that is one-of-a-kind and built for the audience experience.
Critic's Notebook: From where I was standing backstage, I could watch the KU-MU basketball game on the security guards' tiny television. It was evident to this KU fan that the guards were Missouri fans, and it was entertaining to have so much sports talk going on with so much rock in the background.
Down By the Water
Rise to Me
Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect
We Both Go Down Together
Won't Want for Love
The Rake's Song
Don't Carry it All
The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Crane Wife 3
16 Military Wives
The Chimbley Sweep
Eli the Barrow Boy
The Mariner's Revenge Song