Cooperstown was the place to be on July 26, for baseball aficionados and indie pop fans alike. In addition to it being the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend, just a few miles south, Brewery Ommegang was proud to present The Decemberists with very special guests Lucius. Having been lucky enough to catch a set by Lucius at last year’s Mountain Jam, and hearing stories of the wacky stage antics and audience interactions for which The Decemberists are known, there was no doubt that this show was going to be fabulous.
To get everyone pumped for the evening’s main act, Lucius was a force to be reckoned with, with the two leading ladies Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig being played in by multi-instrumentalists Andrew Burri, Peter Lalish, and Dan Molad. Donning identical outfits and hairdos, Wolfe and Laessig do much more than dress in unison.
Whether singing the same notes together sounding as one, or harmonizing blending together the most unlikely but simultaneously striking notes, Lucius is definitely a band worth watching. The ladies’ shorter and less-blonde-than-usual ‘dos added a more punkish feel initially to the set, but they turned towards their more folk side later on, having just returned from the Newport Folk Festival where they had the privilege of playing with Roger Waters (and none other than The Decemberists).
Sandwiched in the middle of their set, Lucius covered three folk tunes, including Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and Ian and Sylvia’s “You Were On My Mind”. I don’t believe a crowd has ever danced that hard to those old favorites! Giving Burris, Lalish, and Molad chances to demonstrate their expert capabilities, the girls left the stage a couple of times to let them shine, treating the audience to an almost classical sounding guitar duet at one point. Graciously thanking The Decemberists for the opportunity to go on tour with them, and even giving a shout-out to the Hall of Fame Inductees, Lucius adequately prepped the audience for the rest of what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
With the clouds looking awfully threatening to the south, I quickly grabbed some tasty local grub from the famous Origins Café food truck, fully expecting to be hunkering down in my rain gear for the duration, but thankfully the weather cooperated (at least over Ommegang – who knows what it was doing two miles up the road?). With as dramatic an entrance as to be expected from a band known for their fun live show experiences, The Decemberists walked out onto a dark stage, with a backdrop of the band’s latest album cover, after a classic soundtrack which sounded like music from the 1920s was being played on an old record player blasted over the speakers. The quirkiness of simply having its roots in Portland, Oregon, shined through immediately in The Decemberists’ set, with the first song “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” giving off the feeling of a king addressing his court. Next up was “July July!”, played in an almost Who/Tommy style, featuring Nate Query on the stand-up bass using a bow, which always adds a haunting quality to a tune. After lead vocalist Colin Meloy announced that some of their songs will be good, and some will just be “eh,” the band went into “Down By the Water”. The Decemberists showed off its versatility by switching seamlessly between what Meloy classified as coal miner material with “Rox in a Box”, featuring Jenny Conlee prominently on the accordion, to French Legionnaire material with “The Legionnaire’s Lament”.
At this point in the set, Meloy took the opportunity to promote the band’s new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, playing a poppier catchier than usual “Make Me Better.” Getting a bit more emotional, Meloy confessed that he decided to write this next forward-marching song, which featured a lovely piano solo by Conlee, during a tough time he was going through with his family.
Settling back into some of their older more familiar tunes for a bit, The Decemberists demonstrated just how dedicated a fan base they have generated, with people of all ages who had come out of the woodworks for this show singing along with each and every word of this band’s eccentric lyrics.
The band also showed how multi-talented each and every musician in the band is, featuring some swirly Hammond sounds from Conlee, and some fancy pedal steel action from guitarist Chris Funk, on top of more beautiful bowed bass playing by Query on “The Island”. After telling the entire audience how beautiful each and everyone looked, Meloy led the band into their famous “Anti-Summer Song.”
Playing perhaps their most patriotic number, “16 Military Wives”, Meloy enlisted the audience in a sing-along, but not just your typical sing-along: he even went so far as to scold someone for singing when it was supposed to be his solo! After getting back on track from that distraction, Meloy introduced the next tune “Dracula’s Daughter” as being the worst most grievous song he has ever written, and then went straight into the band’s more popular “O Valencia!” The band ironically ended their set with “The Beginning Song”.
After hearing a comment from an audience member that The Decemberists “make just the right amount of noise,” we were left wanting more, after a seemingly short set. They sure did make up for it with their double encore, the first of which consisted of five songs. Giving the guest background singers a chance to shine through, the first encore “The Hazards of Love” started out with just Conlee rocking out on keys and the two background singers truly belting it out.
Still not getting enough, the Decemberists caved to the audience’s pressure and came out for a second encore, consisting of perhaps the band’s silliest songs, starting with “Red Right Ankle” and ending with a rousing rendition of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, during which the audience was instructed to scream like they’re being swallowed by a whale. I wasn’t quite sure what that would sound like, but the audience did quite a good job, garnering inspiration from the absurdness of the lyrics and stage antics.
The Decemberists’ members sure did use their time wisely during their hiatus. They have come back with new more personal yet still characteristically fun tunes, and they have added renewed energy and inspiration to their older numbers. Touring throughout the US and Canada, with dates scheduled through October, and more being added every day, the Decemberists are a must see on this tour.