Birmingham HMV Institute is a good fit for the band, it is an old and beautiful historical building with many tales to tell – the intelligent, literate (and often historical) rock stories of the band seem likely to be a perfect match for the surroundings.
And so it proves, following a pleasant enough opening set from Blind Pilot, the band enter stage left and open with Leslie Anne Levine from Castaways and Cutouts before three songs from the new album, Calamity Song, the outstanding Rox In The Box and Rise To Me are met with fervent delight from the capacity crowd.
It is said often enough that Colin Meloy is an unlikely rock star and it is true enough. As my gig-buddy Matt astutely observes, he takes some time to settle into the rhythm of the evening. Not awkward as such, but while crowd banter and minor on stage hiccups are laughed off, there seems to be an edge of slight irritation over any loss of control that is carefully repressed early on. We are a few songs in before the mood of the audience and the bookish charm of the band’s playing takes over and he seems to relax and start to truly enjoy himself.
The middle section sees some of the classics from their back catalogue, a compelling version of The Engine Driver is followed by a perfectly judged change of pace and tempo with the excellent Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In the Taiga), a rapturously received Crane Wife and a churning, dramatic Annan Water.
A couple more from the new album, including the countryish jangle of Down By The Water leads into the set finale; an epic crowd singalong of Sixteen Military Wives that is perfectly controlled and orchestrated by the band.
We get two encores, the first is new album stand out Don’t Carry It All, and rollicking sea shanty The Mariner’s Revenge Song. Finally they return again for a poignant version of June Hymn that calms and settles the crowd ready for the journey home.
Finally my grateful thanks to ace photographer Jon Mackay for the use of the pictures. Click here or use the link on the right to see more of his work.
Download The Decemberists – Down By The Water mp3 (from The King Is Dead)
Listen to Rox In The Box: