10th March 2011
4 & 1/2 stars
Their new album, The King Is Dead, went to number one in America and tonight’s show is part of their biggest UK tour to date, but the strongest indication of The Decemberists having ‘made it’ surely comes in the form of a pre-recorded message, played before the band take the stage, from the mayor of their hometown of Portland, Sam Adams.
The tongue-in-cheek introduction, in which Adams claims to be speaking live from a geodesic dome floating above the venue and encourages audience members to introduce themselves to the people around them, sets the tone for an evening that sees the folk-rockers make the cavernous Academy 1 feel very intimate. Opening with the rollicking ‘The Infanta’, the band tear through an impressive setlist, which leans heavily on the Americana of their latest studio effort.
Whilst there’s nothing from the first two records, a slew of classics make the cut tonight, including ‘Sixteen Military Wives’, the murderous ‘The Rake’s Song’ and the set highlight, the sprawling maritime epic ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’, during which the crowd are urged “to scream as if you’re being eaten by a whale”. The Decemberists’ main strength, though, has always been in frontman Colin Meloy’s delightfully sharp lyrics; his evocative, highly literate style echoes such contemporaries as The Shins and Belle and Sebastian and tonight paints a hauntingly beautiful picture of the band’s pacific northwest home.
Closing a second encore with the gorgeous ‘June Hymn’ and segueing into a cover of The Smiths’ ‘Ask’ in the process, Meloy tells the crowd that “Manchester was like Narnia to me as a kid” in reference to the city’s rich musical heritage; it won’t be long before Portland, Oregon is held in similarly high regard if it can keep churning out live bands as accomplished as The Decemberists.