In support of their eighth studio album, the Decemberists took the Agora Theatre stage last night for the latest stop on their Your Girl/Your Ghost tour. Singer Colin Meloy, who was dressed in dark denim and sported a scruffy 5 o’clock shadow, and his troupe of Oregonian misfits started the night off with the happy sad song “Everything is Awful,” which they delivered with insanely ironic delight.
Meloy kept extending the song, holding the mic out to the crowd for a sing-along, joking that he could do that all night, making up verses as he went, until guitarist Chris Funk shot off a confetti gun at the crowd, punctuating the end of the cartoonish track.
Up next was the feverishly ghoulish “Your Ghost,” a poppy haunting track, which should immediately be added to everyone’s Halloween playlist from now until the end of time.
The stage overflowed with a looney bin of stuff. A skull with a harmonica sat on top of a small lion statue. The musical instruments were large and bulky and plentiful. Pianist Jenny Conlee stood behind a huge brown organ-looking contraption that looked like something one might find in his or her grandma’s basement. Nate Query’s cello looked so big, it was as if it was ballooning up before your eyes. The impressive backdrop featured a giant skull with swirly caved-out eyeholes.
Band members had embroidered artwork on their costumes, all from Portland illustrator Carson Ellis, who also designed the artwork for their new album. The art was colorfully vivid, giving it a Yellow Submarine-ish tone.
The night slowed down for the earthy, low-key “Cutting Stone.” Then, it got even more somber for “We Both Go Down Together,” a track introduced by Meloy as being about a double suicide. An omnipresent motif in the band's work is the act of drowning. Many songs mention rivers and being swallowed by the rain. The folksy, harmonica filled “Down by the Water” continued this water-logged theme.
Then, it was onto the slow march of “Starwatcher” before really picking things up with the first single off their new album, the thrashing psychedelic synth tune “Severed,” which received a strobe light injection of vigor, edge and energy. However, the crowd may still have been recovering from all the earlier tracks because fans didn’t seem to respond to it with much fervor.
The show got back on track with the peppy chant “We All Die Young,” a song highlighted by Funk’s soulful sax solo. The crowd was visibly enthusiastic to hear classic track “O Valencia!” as Meloy physically interacted with the fans by reaching over the barrier to touch them. For “Once in My Life,” Meloy glowed under a purple hue as he sang the lyrics about a man’s suicidal plea for a reason not to drown himself in a river.
The first encore began with “Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes,” and the first half of the song a guttural slow drumbeat of sobbing infinite sorrow, while the second part felt like an upbeat half of a completely different song. This is a very Decemberists way of song construction as their catalog features a never-ending stream of untreated manic depression. Then, Meloy gave a warning to the children in the audience, saying the next track, written by the prolific Lin Manual Miranda, was quite vulgar, but would also provide a good history lesson. The crowd was then treated to an enthusiastic rendition of “Ben Franklin’s Song” that led to “I’ll Be Your Girl," a simple love lullaby sweetened by Conlee’s xylophone.
Encore two featured the grand fan favorite, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song," a visual and sonic feast that made the concert worth the price of admission alone. Meloy and the gang became unreliable boat captains steering the venue into treacherous waters. The band truly shined as it completed it climactic morph, and all the instruments from the depths of the carnival trunks came out to play. Meloy dropped to his knees playing his guitar, Conlee harmonized with the back-up singers beautifully, and then a larger-than-life whale balloon floated from backstage into the crowd as one by one, members of the band dropped like flies to the floor, playing as if they were dead. Then, with the sound of a single guitar string chord, they were all revived to deliver a speedy clapping synth-filled finale.