On Wednesday night, The Decemberists made a return visit to their regular haunt at Vicar St. This gig marked the opening of the European leg of their What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World tour. Tickets came in at a very reasonable €25 (standing), which included a two-hour, two-encore performance from The Decemberists, plus an impressive opening act from Windings. The latter are an indie/folk quintet, originally from Limerick.
The show kicked off promptly at 8.30 with a brisk set from Windings. The lead singer Steve Ryan was bumbling, chatty and charming, a welcome change from the dour demeanour of a lot of support acts. His bandmates unfortunately, had a tendency for shoe-gazing. Windings were immediately impressive despite the short set. Their drive and enthusiasm was palpable; they couldn’t seem to believe their luck at getting an opportunity to support The Decemberists.
They were also especially enthused to announce their new song (‘This is the New Song!’, ‘We’re going to play the New One!’, as they kept repeating). Their excitement was well placed. ‘Ambivalence Blues’ was the highlight of the performance. The chorus which went something like “Don’t make friends as though you’re trying to make up numbers at your funeral” was instantly addictive. Windings seem to specialise in indie folk with elements of punk, which makes the inclusion of 70’s era guitar solos rather surprising. Lead guitarist and singer Steve Ryan is aware that guitar solos, like speeches, should be kept short. As a result, the brevity of these musical interludes made them really effective and punchy. Windings were a really high quality support act. On the basis of their performance, their album I am Not the Crow should be well worth a listen.
At 9.30 on the dot, The Decemberists made their way to the stage. Singer Colin Meloy opened with ‘A Singer Addresses his Audience’ – a tongue-in-cheek devotional tune about the pervasive nature of fame and the possessiveness of ardent fans ‘who were there first!’ The remaining members all joined Meloy for the surging apex of the song.
Another early song was the twelve minute epic ‘The Island: Come and See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning’ from The Crane Wife. An unusual choice to select such a long song for an album tour, however, it proved to be one of the most memorable songs of the evening. The frenzied keyboard solo of the second movement followed by the entire crowd crooning ‘you’ll not feel the drowning…’ made it quite an interactive tune. Other highlights of the evening included ‘The Rake’, ’16 Military Wives’ and ‘The Legionnaire’s Lament’.
The slower, quieter songs also proved to be audience favourites. ‘June Hymn’ and ‘Eli, the Barrowboy’ had the entire room spellbound and dutifully singing along. The reflective and utterly sincere ‘Carolina Low’ reduced the boozy audience to complete silence.
Vicar St. held a very enthusiastic audience that night. They were also, quite pleasingly, exactly the type of people you would expect to be Decemberists fans. The groundling section hosted a plethora of full beards and black framed glasses. One over excited Dub couldn’t contain his joy and blurted out “THIS IS CLASS!” during a quiet lull between songs. Meloy was also pleased to encourage some crowd interaction throughout the gig, even if it was only to silence hecklers. “I can’t understand you. You’re speaking in your brogues”, he quipped to one persistent shouter.
There were also some moments of playfulness. From singing the opening lines from ‘Dublin’s Fair City’, to an impromptu rendition of a Spandau Ballet classic, Meloy was clearly enjoying himself. There was also the brief interlude in which he expressed his wish to have Morrissey stuffed and mounted on display in Dublin’s Natural History Museum. The import and significance of this is unknown.
At 11.30, after the last notes of ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’ were cut short due to tumultuous applause, The Decemberists left the stage a final time, leaving a very satisfied audience in their wake.
The Decemberists continue to be an exceedingly prolific, hardworking band, whom appear most at ease during their live gigs. The Vicar St. gig was quite literally a roaring success, a triumphant beginning to the start of their European tour, and a definite 4 out of 5 from me.