Written and Photographed by Julie Ann Shaw
The original plan was to celebrate twenty years since forming as a band by going on tour, but sadly, The Decemberists had to postpone their celebration tour. Twice. To cope, they opted to offer three online concerts, each with a different setlist that spans their 20 years’ worth of music, in the middle of April 2021. However, even with the best intentions, the streamed concerts fell short. It wasn’t because the band’s performance was lacking, but because the heart and soul of all The Decemberists’ music is the audience and their participation.
The line wrapped around the corner, and even as the line moved forward, so many people continued to arrive that no matter how many people entered the venue, the line only got longer. The same was true for the line to the merch table, forcing an employee to add barriers to extend the zigzag multiple times. No matter where I walked in the venue, the excitement was palpable, and everyone was anxious for the night to begin.
Joining them on tour was Jake Xerxes Fussell, a folky blues singer with a voice that could soothe even the most anxious souls, and his guitar. His setlist consisted of “Jump For Joy,” “Push Boat,” “Jubilee,” Bessie Jones & The Georgia Sea Island Singers’ “Raggy Levee,” “The River St. Johns,” and “Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing on a Sweet Potato Vine.”
The moment finally came. The Decemberists, Colin Meloy (vocals, rhythm guitar, bouzouki, harmonica), ChrisFunk (lead guitar, mandolin, banjo), Nate Query (upright bass, electric bass, cello), Jenny Conlee (keyboards, accordion, glockenspiel), and John Moen (drums) took the stage. Before they began playing, Meloy took a moment to remind the audience and inform those new to the fandom that their shows are like campfires; everyone must sing every song. It’s not just because, Meloy confessed jokingly, that he forgets the words.
They opened their set with a hit from their debut 2002 album, “Castaways & Cutouts,” “July, July!” and then went on with their mining song about the deadly disaster at Granite Mountain in 1917, “Rox In The Box.” They continued their 20-year spanning set with “Sucker’s Prayer” from their 2018 album “I’ll Be Your Girl.” “The Wrong Year,” “The Engine Driver,” “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid,” “The Sporting Life,” “Burial Ground,” “Severed,” and “Calamity Song,” which merged into “Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal.” “The Crane Wife 1 & 2”, “Down By The Water,” “16 Military Wives,” and “California One/Youth And Beauty Brigade.”
As is tradition, The Decemberists left the stage, but the lights stayed down, signaling that the show was not truly over. After a minute or two, they returned to deliver a three-song encore, which sent the crowd into the most enthusiastic explosion of cheers. The first encore was “William Fitzwilliam,” written and debuted during quarantine in 2020 on Live on KEXP at Home Session. Next, from their 2015 album “What A Terrible World, WhatABeautiful World,” “A Beginning Song.” Finally, “Sons & Daughters” off their 2006 album, “The Crane Wife .” Written in only two chords because Meloy had just purchased a bouzouki, and that was all he knew how to play at the time.
Like all shows nowadays, this show was long anticipated. And, of course, The Decemberists did not disappoint either of their old or new fans.