The Decemberists + Bridezilla – Beck's Festival Bar (20.01.10)


Both a Big Day Out Sideshow and a Sydney Festival event, the
opportunity to see Portland Oregon’s The
live is one to never pass up. And they showed
just why that’s the case tonight, in the appropriate surrounds of Hyde Park
Barracks – a show nestled in between their sold out Metro sideshow, and their 2 Big Day Out
appearances. That makes 4 sold out shows!

First up were Sydney’s own Bridezilla – or as Colin “Grizzly” Meloy,
Decemberists unshaven frontman, called them – our local heroes! And indeed they are,
continuing to impress crowds wherever they pop up… which seems to be just about
everywhere at the moment, keeping the girls (and boy) very busy no doubt. We’ve
spent plenty of time raving about the band here at the AU review, however, so we’ll
quickly move along to the main attraction.

It was a pity the band couldn’t bring across the whole
Hazards of Love production down under – it sounded like it was breathtaking. A quick listen to the album would justify that. But with an average set clocking in at over 2 hours, and well over 20 songs, it
was neither feasible nor affordable given their hectic Australian schedule
(along with the fact only the core 5 could make it down). And indeed, they were looking
a bit tired tonight. But more importantly, they were playing to crowds they’d never
played to before – so they brought along with them a few treats that hadn’t
seen the light of day in quite some time in place of the new album.

They opened the set with one such jem, “The Tain”, an epic 5
part track which was released as an EP of the same name in 2004. This was not a
track I was overly familiar with, so I can’t attest to whether or not they
played the full version (I have a feeling they did), but it was a truly awe
inspiring way to begin the set. The only shame was the nature of the venue –
people were making more noise than the band, which was quite frustrating given
how powerful and epic a track “The Tain” is.

With almost 20 minutes taken up by the opening number, the remainder of the set tried to cover as many albums and singles as possible. “The Rake’s
Song” was unfortunately the only track to be played off of Hazards of Love, one of the standout albums of 2009, but as Colin Meloy jested, where better to play a track about infantcide than at the Hyde
Park Barracks? “The Shankill Butcher” followed with similar sentiment. They
also threw a bit of Australiana, with a “traditional Australian mining song”
before “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect” (or was it just “Dreams” by Fleetwood
Mac?) and a cover of “Bye Bye Pride” by The Go-Betweens in the encore.

No doubt spurred on by the recent political dramas
surrounding Ted Kennedy’s seat in the US, the primary set ended on a high note
with the inclusion of their biggest hit in Australia, “16 Military Wives”.
Easily the highlight of the set, The Decemberists showed why they’re one of the
world’s best live bands, spliting the crowd down the middle, getting each side
to chant to the other as part of the song. Finally, Colin had the crowd
silent and under his spell. A pity it took that long to build – by the time the
show had ended, we all felt like they’d just gotten started!

If they ended the main set with the highlight of the night, they virtually
matched the experience with the final song of the night – “The Mariner’s
Revenge Song” an epic tale in which members of the band were killed, and Colin
showed off his amazing ability to tell a tale through the powers of song.
Indeed, this was done so during “The Tain”, but with a crowd mostly ignoring
the track, I don’t think they were able to appreciate it until this epic tune.

While I doubt most of the people in the room would have left
disappointed, I couldn’t help but feel a bit myself on a variety of
levels. Having seen the band before overseas, I know just what they’re capable
of, and it made me wish they hadn’t been down here for the Big Day Out, but
rather for their own tour. In the place of the band we saw tonight, we would
have seen them more energetic, with a longer set, and maybe even the Hazards
of Love in full. Hell, Colin might have even shaved.

But like so many before them, hopefully this experience will have been a
positive one, and they’ll come back before we know it. This is, without a
doubt, one of the best bands in the world – and even on an average night like
tonight, they still shine far and above the rest. Don’t be a stranger!


The Tain
July, July!
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
The Rake’s Song
The Shankill Butcher
Crane Wife 1 & 2
O Velencia!
16 Military Wives


Bye Bye Pride (Go-Betweens Cover)
The Mariner’s Revenge Song

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.