Sunday, July 15, 2007

extraordinary how potent cheap music is

Holy... wow. I need to update my Top 5 All Time Concerts.

Previously, the list was:

1) The Who, V Festival 2006. Because it's the fricking' WHO, because they played for almost two hours and because they played a forty minute medley from Tommy. Also because there was insane drama going on that day: in our group people were kissing and not speaking and coming down from coke binges and it was all incredibly messy and bad and it all just stopped the second the band began the opening to "Baba O'Reilly."

2) The Killers, Vienna (Austria, not Virginia), February 2005. Because the show was in an abandoned industrial slaughterhouse, because it was just before Hot Fuss really broke out, and because I will never, ever forget, that particular performance of "Mr. Brightside." I was 23 and backpacking through Europe after quitting the worst first job ever and cheesy as it seems now, because it's a song about creepy voyeurism and stalking, those lyrics seemed to have been written exactly for me:

But it's just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
'Cause I'm Mr. Brightside

My original next three were Ben Folds at Interlochen Arts Camp, Summer 2003 (got sick of the crappy piano they gave him, so he stood on top of it and sang "Not The Same" while conducting the audience in six-part harmony); Arcade Fire in Amsterdam, March 2005 (this had the potential to be much higher on the list, but frankly, I don't remember much of it) and Barenaked Ladies, Detroit, summer of 1998 (first big Detroit concert I ever saw with friends, first time I ever made out with a stranger at a concert, and sadly the first and only time I ever saw BNL. Say what you will, but they put on a fantastic show and I would cheerfully pay any amount of money to have them as my wedding band someday. How awesome a party would THAT be?).

However, the list needs updating. Last night Lisa and I saw the Decemberists with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and it is immediately going on my list as #3. I knew it was going to be good, and that I was there with the right person (a critical element of a successful concert-going experience, as the wrong companion can wreck what is otherwise an awesome show) when the orchestra started to tune up and Lisa and I looked at each other all moony-eyed. We're both former classical musicians and that familiar A note wafting over the seats and onto the lawn felt like a welcoming beacon, a sign that whatever was about to happen was promised respectability and a place in the canon.

The band came on to crashing applause, Colin Meloy opened his mouth to sing "Crane Wife 1 & 2" and we were done for. The combination of the two groups was glorious, creating the most lush sounds I've ever heard in a rock concert. The strings starting to pulse behind his guitar, the brass dartingly punctuating the percussion, and of course, Colin Meloy's voice presided firmly yet yearningly over all of it. They created a wave of gorgeous sound that spread over the lawn, so rich that the air seemed to massage us as we soaked up the music.

The Decemberists of course pride themselves on being inventive and using a huge variety of instruments to create lush and unusual music, especially for a rock band. You think the Decemberists, you think creativity, literary lyrics, innovative, even snobby. But with the backing of a full orchestra, what we got was JOY. Their music, even songs like "Odalisque," seemed to shimmer with optimism and eager, excited smiles. One of my favorite moments was during "The Tain," when the cameraman caught a violinist giggling to herself as Colin Meloy sang "she's a salty little pisser with your cock in her kisser," and it was just one of many moments when the band members, orchestra members and conductor were caught off-guard smiling and laughing, as if thinking "how incredibly cool is this?" It was what music should be, with musicians clearly taking pride in what they do and having a great time sharing it with an enthusiastic audience.

Of course, it was an audience made in part of classical music fans, and so people remained sitting until the orchestra took a break and the band played "Perfect Crime # 2" without them. As the audience rose, Meloy jumped off the stage and strolled around the pit, while Lisa and I clutched each other's arms in silent prayer. "Pleaselethimcomebackhere, pleaselethimcomeback here...." And it worked. He appeared at the top of the house, twenty feet from where we stood, and we both ran for it, leaving our purses and wallets and cameras behind on the blanket. Because good music does something to the listener, makes her forget herself and her concerns and the worldly distractions, and makes her run after a small man in a white suit and round glasses just to high-five him, in the hopes of gaining even more sensation from all that he has already given her.

By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from grinning so hard and I was in an absolute daze. Just the way I always want to feel after a show. Or, y'know, life. Whichever. If I could change one thing (because there's always something), I wish they would have brought out the whale for the encore performance of "Mariner's Revenge." But since "seeing the Decemberists perform 'Mariner's Revenge'" has been on my Things To Do Before I Die List for some time now, let's just go ahead and leave that particular nit un-picked for now.

Complete setlist:

The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Infanta
We Both Go Down Together
The Bagman's Gambit
(which of course got big cheers from the hometown crowd)
Perfect Crime #3
(without orchestra)
Los Angeles, I'm Yours
The Tain
O, Valencia!
(without orchestra)
I Was Meant For The Stage

The Mariner's Revenge (without orchestra)


Jen said...

So so so so so so SO excited to see them Wednesday. I'll be sure to see if they do the same set or not - clearly doesn't matter, though, as everything is amazing.

Lisa said...


Anonymous said...

That Ben Folds concert sounds absolutely amazing. I wish I could have been there... I wish I could go to a Folds concert in the first place.