The Decemberists @ The Ogden Theatre, 02/10/11

Let me preface this review by admitting I am not a huge Decemeberists fan.  I am, however, a huge fan of their new album, The King is Dead.  When delving into their back catalogue, I am a fan of about 25% of their work.  Out of that 25%, it’s mostly the shorter, less theatrical tunes that hold my interest.  That being said, I had very high expectations for my first Decemberists show based on reviews I had read.  If it weren’t for those high expectations and for the fact that I was tired from traveling all week, completely sober and attending the show alone, this review might be much more positive.

Let’s start with the negative, that way the review can end on a high note; the high note that this show deserves.

First off, the show started with a cheesy introduction from Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, an introduction that had the audience introducing themselves to one another before closing their eyes and imagining themselves in the Pacific Northwest.  This introduction was humorous, but probably lent itself better to the Boulder crowd the night before, a crowd that evidently was ‘better than’ the Denver crowd.  A ploy Colin used to create a rift between the Boulder and Denver fans, only to facilitate a sing-along later in the evening that brought the two together.  Speaking of Colin, he did a lot of talking throughout the night.  While some of these monologues were entertaining and added an air of intimacy to the show, some of them went on too long, breaking the momentum of energy in the performance.

The set opened with Oceanside from their 2001 5 Songs EP, a song only the loyalists knew, which is not exactly a great way to get the crowd going.  That set the stage for a lackluster first half.  Even the 3-song run of The King Is Dead tracks couldn’t match the energy of the album.  It probably didn’t help that the group of people behind me were talking about Jersey Shore the whole time either.  The flow of the songs, the stage banter and the general mood in the sold-out Ogden crowd just felt like there was something missing…it felt flat.  Everyone was ecstatic at the beginning of every song, but seemed to fall back into conversation before it was over.

It wasn’t until Won’t Want For Love that they really hit their stride.  This track off my least favorite album featured Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) on vocals and took on a life of it’s own that was way beyond the recorded version.  Sara‘s backing vocals and fiddle magic were a highlight of the night.  From that point on, the performance was at the level I had expected coming in.  The funny thing is, many of the highlights for me were the songs that I don’t necessarily like on the albums.  Won’t Want For Love, The Rake’s Song, Sixteen Military Wives, The Crane Wife 3…as well as the softer songs from the new album, January Hymn, Rise To Me and the closer, June Hymn, made the night for me.

Another highlight of the night was Colin‘s vocals.  They were the definition of perfect.  This was one of the best sounding shows I have ever heard at The Ogden.

The first set lasted just over an hour and the setlist was near-perfect.  The band provided songs from almost every album, leaning heavily on their two best (in my opinion), Picaresque and The King Is Dead.  The first encore started just minutes after they left the stage and at that point I moved to the back of the venue to get away from the Jersey Shore idiots I was standing near.  An acoustic version of Eli, The Barrow Boy led way to the theatrics I had feared all night.  The Mariner’s Revenge Song came with what seemed like a 10-minute introduction filled with instructions for the crowd and ocean anecdotes.  Being one of my least favorite songs, it was great to see how much the crowd got into it.  Everyone swaying like drunken pirates at sea, singing along, screaming as the whale crunched their bones…I have to admit I felt like the only person who wasn’t in on a flashmob scene, but I was happy to at least be a spectator in this sea of nerdrock insanity.

The second encore was more of a cool off period.  June Hymn put thoughts (and dreams) of summer in our minds before sending us out into the cold streets of Denver.  From the reaction of the crowd, I’m sure being high off the performance (and the weed in some cases…the place was filled with it) kept them warm on their way to the next destination, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had missed something.  There was a great 45 min show buried in that 90 mins, but the half that I couldn’t get into made for a semi-disappointing night.

Setlist:
Oceanside
Down By The Water
Calamity Song
Rise to Me
The Soldiering Life
Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Crane Wife 3
Don’t Carry It All
January Hymn
Rox in the Box
The Rake’s Song
Sixteen Military Wives
This Is Why We Fight

Encore:
Eli, The Barrow Boy
The Mariner’s Revenge Song

Second Encore:
June Hymn