The Decemberists, Olivia Chaney, and, by their powers combined, Offa Rex, played an absolutely spectacular show at the Orpheum in Vancouver.
Starting the night was the wonderful Olivia Chaney. Standing in the middle of the stage, Chaney was dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of the Orpheum Theatre. And she absolutely owned it. Despite being quite soft-spoken between songs, her voice carried perfectly with the acoustics of the venue. When she explained that her lead single was based on a pun about the Nile/denial (“The Longest River”), I was sold. Her singing style was clearly and truly classical; often, in the middle of a song, she would drop her instrument to sing a section a capella, and it was outstanding.
“These guys have been dragging me into the 20th or 21st century,” quipped Chaney about The Decemberists, following a rendition beautiful rendition of an old medieval tune, “but I’m not going!” It was rather ironic; I can’t imagine the Decemberists being inspired by any band formed after the Victorian era. Together, they were a perfect fit.
I cannot imagine a better venue for a band like The Decemberists. The acoustics were such that every word out of lead singer Colin Meloy’s mouth was clear – integral to a lyric-driven band like The Decemberists and, honestly, a rarer event than I care to admit. Of course, to say they are only a lyric-driven band would be a serious misstep: while the lyrics are truly a step above, the instrumentation pulls no punches either. Despite having a total of seven members on stage, the band had no trouble avoiding cacophony – unless that was the goal, of course.
The ebb and flow of the guitar (Chris Funk) and keyboards (Jenny Conlee) weaved a delicate melody around the subtle basslines of Nate Query, and all was held together by the always-on-point John Moen on drums. In the back, two singers/percussionists supported Meloy with hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies. However, this was only one of many ensembles – it turns out that every member of the band plays, at a minimum, two instruments. Sometimes simultaneously.
The emotional range of the evening was definitely one I was not expecting. The Decemberists’ ability to swing between songs like (the surprisingly upbeat) “Everything is Awful” too emotional ballads like “Dear Avery” is a testament to this. It’s surprisingly easy to figure out when a sombre tune is on deck – Just check if Query is switching his bass guitar for a double bass. It’s a sure bet.
Midway through the set, the band “left” to make way for a short set by Offa Rex, a cooperative side project between Meloy and Chaney. I put “left” in quotations because, while that is the word Colin used to describe it, only the backup singers departed the stage. Accompanied by Chaney (who was singing and playing… some sort of… accordion… box… thing… Admittedly, I have no idea how accordions work), Colin continued to belt out tune after tune, offering more of a folk feel than the typical Decemberists fare.
If you ever get the chance to see this group in concert in a theatre setting, don’t miss it – this is where they really shine.
- The Crane Wife 3
- The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning
- Down by the Water
- Make You Better
- Lake Song
- The Wrong Year
- Blackleg Miner (Offa Rex)
- Flash Company (Offa Rex)
- The Old Churchyard (Offa Rex)
- Los Angeles, I’m Yours
- Bandit Queen
- Everything is Awful
- A Sucker’s Prayer
- The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing
- Calamity Song
- O Valencia!
- Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
- The Tain, Pts. 1-5
- Dear Avery
Photos © Jamie Taylor//Cryptic Photography