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Concert Review: The Decemberists

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image from colinbrown via flickr.

Against a painted backdrop of a Japanese landscape and bathed in the glow of red paper lanterns The Decemberists took the stage at the Wiltern on Saturday night to play for a full house in support of their latest album, The Crane Wife. The Portland quintet, augmented by a violin player on this tour, skillfully mingled the traditional guitar, bass and drums with a cornucopia of instruments not commonly associated with rock and/or roll: an organ, a violin, an accordion, an upright bass, a cello, a dulcimer, a hurdy-gurdy, a bouzouki and probably some others I couldn't name. But then singer/songwriter Colin Meloy doesn't traffic in the insular, personal narratives commonly associated with indie rock. He specializes in uncommonly imaginative, poetic fables that evoke distant lands and bygone eras. The combined effect is like being transported to an immigrant beerhall circa 1906.

But The Decemberists are hardly a kitsch or novelty act. This is a band that knows how to entertain a crowd. For over an hour and a half they energetically played almost every track on The Crane Wife while peppering the set with older songs, including, of course (I suspect they are contractually obligated to play this song whenever they come to town) "Los Angeles I'm Yours."

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At one point Meloy led the audience in a playful vocal warm-up ("This is a wonderful show"), which proved to be good preparation for the rousing finale of "Sons & Daughters." It was beautiful and moving to hear hundreds of voices singing along together over and over again to the refrain, "Hear all the bombs, they fade away."

Hear all the bombs, they fade away…
Hear all the bombs, they fade away…
Hear all the bombs, they fade away…
Hear all the bombs, they fade away…
Hear all the bombs, they fade away…