Genuine and I took a trip back to Portland this last week. We had initially planned on going to take in an Andrew Bird concert, but we added more and more things by the time we headed up. We ended up seeing the Decemberists live in Eugene, meeting the family, and picking out a ring (which I gave to her in a windmill outside of Baker City). It was a pretty exciting trip. There's a lot to be said about it, but at the insistence of nearly everyone I know, I'm just going to provide a review of the concerts.
In order of how much I was impressed by them:
4. Apostle of Hustle. The opening act for Andrew Bird and the only act of the four that I hadn't heard of before. They're a band from Toronto that had a really solid sound. What was funny about the group was the near-constant references to marijuana that the lead singer made. At one point, he told a story about a horse that had a sack of peyote on its right side and hashish on its left, mounted by a man holding the severed and bleeding head of George W. Bush in one hand and the severed and bleeding head of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the other. He was quite the character. I liked the music, though. Go to their MySpace page and listen to it.
3. My Brightest Diamond. All I knew about this group was that Shara Worden, the lead singer, got her start as an Illinoisemaker on Sufjan Stevens' masterpiece, Illinoise. It turned out that her sound was very different from Sufjan's. She sounded a lot like PJ Harvey, actually. It was a very pleasant surprise. She would have been more lively in concert, but apparently she dislocated her left knee during her previous concert in Las Vegas. Even relegated to a chair, however, she put together a pretty entertaining show. She took everyone by surprise by ending with Softcell's "Tainted Love," a song that nearly brought down the house in the opening act. Solid.
2. Andrew Bird. I was really excited for this concert, and even though it didn't turn out like I thought it would, it was still impressive. Bird is a really intense performer in person. He seemed very distant from the crowd, talking in low tones and standing close to the microphone with his hair conspicuously in his eyes. The way he makes his music is extremely interesting to watch. He tends to play the violin most of the time, opting to pluck or strum it rather than use the bow. He sets up loops that he builds upon slowly, causing the songs to grow and become more intense as they go along. They're great to watch, but not especially entertaining. The biggest impression I was left with upon exiting the Crystal Ballroom on Friday was the pain in my knees from having stood still for so long.
1. The Decemberists. This was easily the most fun concert I've been to in my life, and I've seen They Might Be Giants in concert. It started out fun before we even went in the theater - two guys were standing around the corner asking for money so they could "get drunk." No beating around the bush here. They just wanted money for beer. The show got even better inside the theater. Colin Meloy is a natural showman. He took songs like "The Island" and stretched them to nearly 20 minutes. At times, it felt like being in a jam session with the Grateful Dead. Members of the band started acting out bits of the songs in the background, my favorite instance of which was from "The Landlord's Daughter." Rhythm guitarist Chris Funk drew a mock gun and sword during the lyric "Produced my pistol/Then my saber/So make no whistle/Or thou will be murdered," dragging his index finger across his throat for emphasis.
The Decemberists are famed as a hyperliterate band, and they didn't disappoint. One can hear semicolons in their lyrics. Toward the beginning of the show, the band were debating what someone from Eugene could properly be called. After rejecting ideas like "Eugenies" and "Eugenites," Meloy announced, "I've got it! Eugenots! With a T! It's French!" Lest you worry that they alienate fans with such references, however, you can rest assured that they go out of their way to have a good time. Meloy opened up three dance circles during "The Perfect Crime #2," crowd surfed at the end of the show, and even took a fan's camera on stage to take up-close pictures of the band. He also combined hyperliteracy and entertainment at the beginning of "The Mariner's Revenge Song." He asked us to provide the sound of a theater full of people being devoured by a giant whale with this caveat: "You may think that the secret is in the screaming. Not so. It's in the moaning. And the groaning. And the lamenting." He had us practice not only our scream, but also our moans, groans, laments, gnashings of teeth, and our death rattles. It was incredibly fun.
The way that I knew it was a great show, though, was seeing the look on Genuine's face throughout. She absolutely loved it, jumping up and down and clutching my hand tight during the whole show. I would have had a great time seeing the Decemberists by myself, but having her there made it about a thousand times better. It makes me wonder if I shouldn't settle down in Portland after all so I can catch shows like this more often.