When R.E.M. announced a few weeks ago that they had no intention of touring in support of their new album, Collapse Into Now, fans’ shoulders slumped. Seattle fans at least had the chance to experience the next best thing, however, when The Decemberists’ current tour came to town on February 18.
Not only does their latest album, The King Is Dead, feature three guest spots by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, but it has a decidedly R.E.M.-ish vibe from start to finish. Filled with harmonies, jangling melodies, and oddly literate wordplay, it’s as if the spirit of Stipe, Buck and Mills has filled the Portland, OR, band. What’s more, Peter Buck made a rare appearance on stage with the band as they played their show at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, joining Colin Meloy et al for two new tunes, ‘Don’t Carry It All’ and ‘Down By The Water’.
Before the band reached that point, though, fans had already been treated to some of their greatest hits, as well as plenty of songs from the new LP, in what amounted to a marathon session of traditional folk and wordy narrative pop songs. Opening with older cut ‘The Apology Song’, The Decemberists revisited most points on their (suprisingly long) career trajectory, from all three parts of ‘The Crane Wife’ to recent hit ‘This Is Why We Fight’.
The only noticable absence was 2009’s The Hazards Of Love, which was only represented by a brief run through ‘Won’t Want For Love’ – but considering the mauling that the album received at the hands of some critics, it’s easy to see why they’d shy away from it. It would be nice to see the band reclaim that album’s strong tunes and emotional resonance sometime soon.
In the meantime, though, fans were more than happy as Meloy skipped merrily through some of the band’s jauntiest tunes, ending strongly on ’16 Military Wives’ and an extended prog-folk version of ‘The Chimbley Sweep’. The encores also took a meandering route, this time through an incredibly theatrical rendition of ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’ that owed more to pantomime than your average rock show. If the band’s attention had a tendency to wander in the show’s latter half, they pulled it all together admirably with ‘June Hymn’ at the close of the night – one of the most memorable tracks from The King Is Dead, and the perfect ending to an evening that had somehow managed to touch on rock, folk, pop, prog rock, and even the occasional pirate shanty.
Of course, R.E.M. fans will still be mourning the absence of their heroes on this year’s touring schedule, but a night with The Decemberists – and Peter Buck – makes for a pretty good substitute. Michael Stipe should be careful – with tunes this strong, The Decemberists might be able to steal Peter Buck away for good next time.
The Apology Song
Rox In The Box
Rise To Me
We Both Go Down Together
The Bagman’s Gambit
Won’t Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga)
The Crane Wife 1&2
The Crane Wife 3
Don’t Carry It All
Down By The Water
This Is Why We Fight
16 Military Wives
The Chimbley Sweep
Eli, The Barrow Boy
The Mariner’s Revenge Song