Gig Review: The Decemberists, Manchester Academy 2, 5th February 2007

The Decemberists @ Manchester Academy 2While I was watching the disappointing Clap Your Hands Say Yeah gig at the Academy on Friday night, JustHipper was doing her homework at the Sheffield Leadmill. She had calculated the exact place to stand at last night’s Decemberists gig in Manchester to receive optimum attention from her hero and current obsession, Colin Meloy. To achieve her goal we had to get there early, wait for ten minutes in the freezing cold, show a blatant disregard for the British queueing system and wait, wait, wait some more. First, for Lavender Diamond.

JustHipper has a major aversion to “kookyfemale folk singers so when Lavender Diamond frontwoman Becky Stark flounced onto the stage, wide-eyed and seemingly stoned, and started saying things like “we are Lavender Diamond, and so are you” I knew that the blue touch paper had been lit. She made it ’til the last song when finally she snapped and made her way out of the hall, returning a few minutes later, when the band had left the stage, to deliver her inevitable tirade, a précis of which can probably be read in the comments section of this post.

Lavender Diamond @ Manchester Academy 2I loved Lavender Diamond. Becky Stark was funny, attractive, slightly weird, but she worked the crowd well and won most of us over with her infectious enthusiasm. She also has a wonderful voice and the songs were beautiful, often sad, pieces of sumptuous folk-pop with shades of country and gospel and I was occasionally reminded of the wonderful Mary Margaret O’Hara. And if she ever makes a comeback, rest assured that I’ll keep JustHipper well out of arms reach.

After the opening announcement (see Friday’s review for more details, if you must) and some tuning of instruments, The Decemberists got things underway with “The Crane Wife 3” followed by “The Island”. If you think that beginning a gig with the final piece of a song cycle followed by a twelve minute, three-part, prog-folk epic is complete suicide then think again because it was a genius opening gambit with “The Island” coming across particularly well, its long intro and proggy interludes knitting together three songs of sublime quality. The goodness kept coming with the majestic pop of “Billy Liar” and the sweeping “We Both Go Down Together” encouraging plenty of singing along from the audience.

According to JustHipper the Manchester crowd was much more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than the Sheffield crowd from Friday night. It also seems that Manchester got the better setlist with Crane Wife highlight “Yankee Bayonet” and Picaresque‘s standout track “The Engine Driver” both getting an airing, the former with backing vocals from the new violinist that were sadly too low in the mix. We also got a great version of “Shankhill Butchers”, with drummer John Moen joining Chris Funk at the front of the stage for percussion and backing vocal duties, and a dynamic reading of “Odalisque” from their debut.

When Meloy exercised his Moses-complex with his parting-of-the crowds bit for “16 Military Wives”, a couple of chancers, small and female, saw their opportunity to get to the front and, despite the disgruntlement of the crowd and repeated instructions from the singer/prophet to go back from whence they came, they stayed put, irking a few of the people they had pushed in front of. When two lads tried the same thing they graciously retreated after just a few seconds, boos ringing in their ears. Meloy’s orchestration of the divided crowd during the la-di-das, was manic and highly amusing and almost made me forget that it’s my least favourite Decemberists song.

The Decemberists @ Manchester Academy 2For the closing “Sons And Daughters” the band were joined on stage by Lavender Diamond and Chris Funk took up his hurdy gurdy as seemingly everyone in the room sang the closing refrain of “hear all the bombs fade away”. For the encore Meloy, Funk and the violinist played a lovely “Eli The Barrow Boy” and a brief, functional “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” in response to a predictable request from the crowd for a Smiths song earlier in the evening. I was expecting “The Chimbley Sweep” to see out the night and was wondering if there was space in the crowded hall for everyone to sit down. Instead, Colin Meloy grabbed a mobile from an audience member, phoned a random person in the address book and the band launched into “Culling Of The Fold”, a Crane Wife outtake, Meloy singing into mic and phone. It was a remarkable, bruising version of a song that sounds relatively placid on record and culminated in a demonic Meloy pointing directly at me, singing a verse of “cut him up boy”, and then crouching down to sing a “cut him up girl” to JustHipper while tenderly stroking her hair and turning her legs to jelly. JustHipper’s homework had paid off handsomely in a stunning end to a truly great gig.

The Decemberists – Culling Of The Fold

Lavender Diamond – You Broke My Heart

17 Responses to “Gig Review: The Decemberists, Manchester Academy 2, 5th February 2007”

  • Matthew Says:

    I’m with JustHipper on Lavender Diamond – nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before. Kooky sums it up, and in the worst possible way.

    And looking at Meloy’s suit there, he wore the same one the night before in Glasgow. I hope he at least showered.

  • JustHipper Says:

    Well, he smelled fresh enough when he was leaning across me to waggle his finger at The Ledge so….

    I don’t even think it’s worth my ranting about how irritating I find faux hippy singers who feign eccentricity to win favour. I have nothing wrong with genunine strangeness and eccentricity, but when it is so blatantly done in the name of image, it just gets my back up. Not to mention when said singer has song lyrics that are about as deep as a puddle. I don’t need to hear one line about never finding love reapeated ad infinitum. Try and say something a bit more interesting next time, love.

  • Duncan Says:

    Yeah, I thought Lavender Diamond were poor. The Keyboard player looked like father Jack and the guitarist looked like Kenny Senior. I saw them in Glasgow, the woman talked for about five minutes before the set started. It wasn’t as if you came to see the support band, so you just want to hear their music sooner the better.

    I wished the Decemberists played “the Soldiering Life” or “Here I Dreamt I was an Architect”. A good set, but it seems like they have been treating every gig the same.

  • JustHipper Says:

    I was actually surprised by the changes to the set from Friday to Monday. When you figure they are promoting The Crane Wife, there was a good mix of older songs and they were varying the songs off The Crane Wife that they played and it’s expected the set will focus on newer material, and on songs that the crowd will know (hence “Billy Liar” and “16 Military Wives”). While I’d have loved to have heard “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” too or “Leslie Ann Levine” it was ace to hear “Odalisque” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen them do live.

  • Saral Kaushik Says:

    It was my phone who he took, I have to say that was the single greatest moment of my life.

  • JustHipper Says:

    So, who did Colin phone?

    Seriously, that was so cool. I don’t tend to get giddy about musicians anymore, but I was walking around with a grin on my face for most of the week after Monday. And I have yet to wash my hair ;).

  • Saral Kaushik Says:

    He phoned some really random person, who I barely know.

    Did you happen to be the person shouting “call his mum”?

  • JustHipper Says:

    I’m impressed he phoned someone at all. Excellent!

    And yes, that was me.

  • beth Says:

    I thought it was amazing enough that he could get someone else’s phone to work! What did the random person think was happening???

  • The Indie Credential » Blog Archive » Justhipper’s Top 10 Gigs of 2007 Says:

    […] @ Manchester Academy 2, February 5th (review) & @ Sheffield Leadmill, February 2nd […]

  • The Indie Credential » Blog Archive » CD Review - The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love (Rough Trade, 2009) Says:

    […] fair to say that here at The Indie Credential, we like The Decemberists a little – ok, a […]

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