Gig review: The Decemberists at O2 Academy Leeds

The Decemberists
The Decemberists
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The Decemberists are playing dead, their instruments lying in chaos over their prostrate bodies, having been killed by a marauding shark.

This, at least, is what the narrative would have the audience believe in epic set closer ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’. The track starts off innocuously enough as a King Creosote style sea ballad but over the course of 10-minutes it mutates into a folk-opera complete with amateur dramatics.

As such it’s indicative of the set from the Portland five-piece, who are joined tonight by two backing singers to promote seventh album What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.

Current single ‘Make It Better’ and ‘Lake Song’ may suggest a fairly ordinary folk-rock band with indebtedness to REM and The Smiths (a point they cheekily reference when ‘The Sporting Life’ closes with a snatch of ‘This Charming Man’). Listen closer, however, and they cover a surprising number of styles and tones.

There are intimate murder ballads (‘Eli, The Barrow Boy’), prog-rock extravaganzas (’The Island’), 70s country rock (‘Carolina Low’) and rock anthems (‘The Rake’s Song’). On opening number ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ there are even hints of keyboardist Jenny Conlee’s work with side project The Delines.

These are all carried by the gravelly tenor of frontman and songwriter Colin Meloy, who sparked concerns over his commitment to the band by putting them on hold for four years to pursue a career as a children’s author. Such doubts are nonetheless dispelled by second track ’16 Military Wives’ when he turns into a besuited choirmaster, directing sections of the audience to “La de da de da.”

Such playful theatrics keep the two-hour set engaging when, in the hands of other anthemic bands, elements of their material could sound dry. Which, having been swallowed by a shark, is probably contrary to the state of the members by the time of the chaotic close.

Gig date: February 14

UB40

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