As night fell crowds and crowds of fans shuffled in, eager to lend their ears to the whimsical, musical stylings of The Decemberists. It’s been six odd since the Portland folk-rock titans made their way back to the shores of Sydney. But finally, after two chart topping releases (The King is Dead and What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World) and plenty of North American touring, the Colin Meloy led band was ready to return, and this time, for their grand Opera House debut.
Undeniably, there are always three defining characteristics you can expect from a Decemberists gig: theatrics, versatility and some chest pounding vocals and instrumentals. ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ kicked off the show and Meloy took centre stage, belting out hauntingly precise, acoustic vocals as each band member joined in one by one before eventually exploding into a synchronic, thunderous chorus – a simplistic, yet fitting introduction.
Things were off to a swift start, as the band began plowing through their set which was intricately intertwined with hits off their 2015 album and plenty of Meloy-audience banter. The stage brightened and came to life with the cheery horn intro of ‘Cavalry Captain’, followed by an immediate transition into the body swaying ‘Wrong Year.’
Applause erupted throughout as the jaunty work song ‘Rox in the Box’ took flight, however the foot tapping rapidly transformed into laughter as Meloy failed to remember the song’s lyrics. Nonetheless, he recovered humorously with ease, giving the upbeat, yet dark shanty another go.
As promised, the show was a compilation of old and new tracks, which proved to satisfy the diverse crowd. And while every song was complimented by roaring praise, the entire audience remained well reserved – whether it was out of courtesy for those seated behind, or simply a result of the primarily mature attendees. Meloy had no issue paying everyone out for this, continuously alluding to the audience’s calmness.
The soaring, timeless melodies of ‘Make You Better’ gave rise to a sing-along frenzy, pumping a breathe of new life throughout the concert hall. This ultimately set the tone for the remainder of the gig and servedg as the perfect launch pad to get people up and clapping to ‘Better Not Wake the Baby.’
Energy intensified with ‘16 Military Wives’, a dark song that turns The Decemberists into a buoyant indie/pop-rock band. Expertly toying with the crowd during the sing-along “la-di-da’s,” choruses, Meloy ensured everyone was on their feet belting lyrics out, and remained so throughout the finale throwback song, ‘O Valencia!’
The floors rumbled and applauses failed to cease until The Decemberists returned for not one, but three encores. ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song,’ a true encore highlight, consisted of everyone pretending to be swallowed by a colossal, cheesy cut-out whale, while ‘The Rake’s Song’ thrilled with its heavy strumming and drumming and served as a strong contender for the night’s most energetic tune. The night seldom came to an end with the sweet ballad of ‘Dear Avery,’ as each member individually departed from the stage.
From slow soothing love ballads and sea shanties to the lively rock and funky folk – each with their own distinct message,- The Decemberists surely know how to put on a show and have fun while doing so. While Meloy oozes confidence and stuns with his perfected, powerfully- high baritone and humor, it would be wrong to go without commending the other multi- talented members of the group. Continuously alternating between every instrument imaginable, from accordions and soundboards to banjoes and cellos, and wowing with tremendous backup vocals, each member equally contributed to the striking versatility and signature, colourful aesthetic that the band has coined. All in all, adoring fans were more than content, and once again, the band solidified themselves as powerhouses of indie-folk rock.
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Hailing from Portland, Oregon The Decemberists made their first Australian pilgrimage on the back of their 2009 release – The Hazards Of Love – the follow-up to their 2006 breakthrough, The Crane Wife. From their debut, Castaways and Cutouts, in 2002, and its follow-up Her Majesty only a year later, the band have been defined