The decision to go and see The Decemberists at the Glasgow ABC on Sunday 4th February 2007 was largely based on some really good reviews that I had read on other blogs, most of which were from American fans.
Although latest LP The Crane Wife has only just been released here in the UK, I've been familiar with a number of its tracks, again thanks in the main to bloggers, although I did purchase the CD earlier in the week from here. I also knew a handful of songs from earlier LPs, but again mostly from hearing them at other folks' sites. So in some ways, it was a step into the unknown, but more so for Mrs Villain who knew but one song until two hours before we made our way into the gig - and even then she got to listen just the once to the new LP along with earlier songs available for download from the official site here.
Unusually for us, we didn't get to the venue in time to see the support act. The ABC was far fuller than I had imagined, but the crowd did seem to be a real mix of student-types along with loads of folk more our own age - another night I imagine that babysitters in Glasgow were in great demand.
There was a slight technical hitch at the outset. What should have been an slightly surreal but entertaining pre-recorded spoken-word intro malfunctioned, so instead of being asked to welcome The Decemberists, the final words were something akin to 'Please g a b hn to Th Dist'. But we knew what the message was.
The band bounced on to the stage and launched into a blistering The Crane Wife 3 and then straight into the 12 minutes and all three sections of The Island - the two opening songs on the new LP. It did appear at first that we were going to be given a live version of the whole LP played in sequence, but the next bit saw a couple of crowd-pleasing songs from the back catalogue.
The set however, relied heavily on the newer stuff, and I thought many of the tracks were better live than on the record.
(Note here to Mike at Manic Pop Thrills - the sound at the venue was excellent and very clear all the way through).
The band were exceedingly talented multi-instrumentalists, but right at the centre of the stage, on whom the spotlight constantly shone, was lead-man Colin Meloy.
Mrs Villain thought at times he was a self-indulgent prat. And while I wouldn't have gone that far, there were a couple of times that he got under my skin - the appalling efforts at crowd participation during an aerobics number made me cringe, and the splitting of the audience into two to see which half could sing loudest on the sing-a-long-bit of 16 Military Wives was something I thought reserved only for prats playing outdoor stadiums.
But then again......99% of the audience, most of whom were normal-minded sensible people, joined in on both counts. So maybe we're just a pair of killjoys.
We did agree however, that he's more than capable of holding an audience without that sort of nonsense, for his voice was absolutely astonishing in a live context. And he can strum his guitar to good effect - but again, why the need to throw shapes?? It reminded me a bit of the goofing that goes on in bands like Barenaked Ladies, and I just don't like it.
Right....that's the grumpy bit of the review out of the way.
This was, musically, an absolutely fantastic concert. Mrs Villain said could have done with a few less songs like The Shankhill Butcher which tend towards the folk side (not her forte), and a few more like Summersong or O Valencia which are incredibly good pop-based records.
But we were both in agreement that the closing couple of songs - The Crane Wife 2 and Sons & Daughters were something really special. For the last couple of minutes of the latter, the band were joined on stage by their support act Lavender Diamond, as well as three of Glasgow's own Sons & Daughters....
The audience went wild at the end - screaming and shouting for an encore, all in contrast to the reception afforded Idlewild the other week at the same venue. Strikes me that the less we see a band in concert, the more we appreciate them and give them the great reception they deserve at the end of a great gig. Idlewild were very much taken for granted by their younger crowd who seemed to just have an attitude of ' we've paid our money so give us a encore you bastards.'
(Or maybe many of last night's more mature audience were just appreciating the fact they were out for the night without the kids in tow and they went daft just so that they could get an extra 15 minutes time freedom.....)
The encore of two more old songs - Eli The Barrow Boy and The Chimbley Sweep - brought a very satisfying end to a great night of music, notwithstanding that I was a bit pissed-off at times with some of the on-stage antics.
But please don't think that I can't stand Colin Meloy. It's just that the tomfoolery and showing-off needs to a bit more understated. He did however, crack a few good one-liners during the show in response to not understanding the Glasgow accents. There were also some good references to his complete lack of understanding about sport on Superbowl night.
An example??? 'Switch On Your Cellphone' was what he thought he heard when a fan growled a phrase that is only shouted at the very best of gigs here in Glasgow - or by drunks in a state of confusion - 'Gaun Yersel Big Man' .
Google if you need a translation.
Here's a couple of highlights from the show:-
mp3 : The Decemberists - We Both Go Down Together
mp3 : The Decemberists - Sons & Daughters
mp3 : The Decemberists - Sons & Daughters
(from The Crane Wife)
And yes, I would I go back and see them again if they tour. They are an exceptionally good band, with a barrow-load of great songs, and the have honed a fantastic live sound. And that counts for a lot in my view.