Gig Review: The Decemberists, Sheffield Leadmill, February 2, 2007

The Decemberists' setlist, Sheffield Leadmill, 2nd Feb 2007You know you’ve seen a great gig when Colin Meloy sits on your friend in the middle of it and then lets you play his guitar. The Ledge and I were faced with a dilemma last night. I bought us tickets to two different Decemberists gigs – Manchester and Sheffield – and then a couple of days later he bought two tickets to see Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It was a week before we realised that the CYHSY gig and the Decemberists Sheffield gig were on the same night. The Ledge decided he wanted to see both bands so opted to give his Sheffield ticket away. I wanted to see both bands as well, but as The Decemberists are my favourite band in the world at the moment, I opted for both Decemberists gigs instead, thinking that I really need to give the new CYHSY album a few intense listens before seeing them perform it live. Thankfully for me, not so much for The Ledge, based partially on the above events, I think I made the right decision.

Just to set the stage here, I introduced rock babe Bricking Chick to The Decemberists’ music about two weeks ago. She reservedly agreed to go with me to the gig despite the fact that we had a late-night work-related function the night before and even though she was not even sure she actually liked them. She’s pretty sure she does now. When we set off for Sheffield at about 4:30pm, neither of us were entirely certain we would manage the drive, much less be able to stay awake for the gig and still make it back to Manchester in one piece. Such is the charm and brilliance of The Decemberists, they managed to wake us both up with their intro tape alone which asked us all to look out for those around us, please don’t push and instructed us to introduce ourselves to our neighbours. Then the band strolled on stage, all smiles, to inform us they were a bit jet-lagged as it was the first night of the tour before launching into “The Crane Wife 3.” The set involved a huge amount of time retuning, some instruments I’d never seen before, including Chris Funk using this grey accordian-like contraption with buttons, strings, knobs and keys which he had to wind and a new violinist to take the place of Petra Haden who filled her role more than adequately even if she doesn’t quite exude the same amount of charisma.

The set included the full cycle “The Island” which doesn’t delight me on the album as much as other tracks but I thought translated brilliantly. Sadly, the rather subdued crowd who did not seem to be particularly familiar with the band’s material ignored Colin’s instructions to stomp along with the first part of the song. “We Both Go Down Together” was the first non-Crane Wife track and it sounded oddly jaunty. Moving on to “Summersong” off the new album, I wondered why they’d chosen that over the far superior “Yankee Bayonet” or “The Perfect Crime” and was delighten to hear “Eli, the Barrow Boy” and “Billy Liar” back-to-back, the latter of which contained some odd piano which was rather high in the mix, but also provoked the first slight bit of movement from the crowd as I think maybe three other people had possibly heard it. The band, however, did not seem to notice the lack of energy in the crowd as they cracked jokes about Sheffield bands and countered hecklers with obscene gestures. It was painfully obvious to me however as I felt a bit silly bursting to jump up and down with nobody else following suit. Even when Colin came to the barrier right in front of me and put his foot on Bricking Chick’s elbow, there was absolutely no pushing behind us to get near to him. While I appreciated not having to fight to stay on my feet, it did seem rather unusual for a gig.

“The Legionnaire’s Lament” found its way back into the set. I’d particularly enjoyed it at All Tomorrow’s Parties even though I’ve never paid the track much attention on the record, and I enjoyed it again. It seems to work very well in a live setting. Finally came “O’ Valencia” and the crowd started to move a bit. They maintained the energy with a fantastic version of “16 Military Wives” which contained a crowd sing-off as Colin divided us in two for the “La di da di das” at the end of the song. Finishing the main part of the set with “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” and “Sons and Daughters” the band held another audience sing-along to the refrain “Hear all the bombs fade away” at the end of the song before disappearing off stage, having finally provoked mass screaming and singing along.

Although the setlist read “Solo” at the start of the encore, presumably meaning a solo track from Colin, the whole band emerged instead before Colin’s usual intro about an “autobiographical” song led into “The Chimbley Sweep.” As they did their usual 10-minute rendition, complete with a segue into Leonard Cohen’s “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-On,” Colin worked the crowd, coming again down to us at the barrier before sitting himself down on Bricking Chick and handing his guitar first to the security guards to play before turning around, holding the correct strings down and letting us have a strum and shaking a few hands. He even handed his guitar back into the crowd briefly before returning to the stage to theatrically encourage the band to lie down for a nap, shouting at Chris Funk for reaching for his beer instead of lying down. While I was surprised to still see this routine after two years, I realised as he encouraged us to sit down and nobody moved a muscle until I pulled Bricking Chick to the ground, that this was a completely new thing to British audiences (at least the ones who didn’t make it to ATP) and that everyone really should be delighting in the histrionics as they’re such a fun and amusing part of The Decemberists’ live set. Wouldn’t you know it though, one loser refused to sit down on the floor and Colin refused to play on until he did, so finally the crowd booed at him so loudly he was forced to get down in time to hear Jenny Conlee’s vocals and the crowd jumping back to our collective feet for a giant finish. As the band left the stage and Bricking Chick grabbed hold of the setlist, all I could think was how thankful I am that I can still look forward to a second showing on Monday night in Manchester, with hopefully a more responsive crowd.

In case anyone was wondering, to my surprise, Liam Frost opened, not Lavender Diamond, and was charming although not exactly what we needed. I prefer him with a full band, but he certainly sounded lovely, just not lively enough for me in my state of exhaustion. I’m looking forward to seeing Lavender Diamond on Monday night.

The Decemberists – The Legionnaire’s Lament

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife 3

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