Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Decemberists @ the Hollywood Bowl

The Decemberists with the Los Angeles Philharmonic
w/ Andrew Bird and Band of Horses

Hollywood Bowl
July 7, 2007

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(Thanks, Pitchfork.com!)

Allow me to preface this half-assed review by saying that I know very little about The Decemberists. Granted, they're extremely talented and write gorgeous songs, but I have to be in the right "mood" to listen to them (and so I don't very often). But it turns out that the right mood is easily produced by a bottle of red wine at the Hollywood Bowl.

Though I'm a casual listener, I was thoroughly entertained by Mr. Meloy and his crew. The first (two) song(s) of their set, "Crane Wife 1 & 2," were spectacular: Meloy's lovely strumming and earnest singing was gracefully accompanied by the chill-inducing swell of the orchestra. But my favorite song was the creepy epic "The Tain," which is an EP (so I'm told).

Meloy is a great showman, and when technical problems rendered him guitar-less during "Perfect Crime #2," he improvised by doing the Ashlee Simpson all over the stage and around the semi-circle platform that seperated the pit from the box seats. Later, armed with his Gibson electric guitar, he did an encore run around the platform during "Chimbley Sweep" and explained that since his cord wouldn't stretch that far, the guitarist onstage would perform the solo while he air-guitared. So he mimed the solo on the platform and then ran back to the stage and fervently asked the audience, "will you indulge me?" Of course, we said Yes, and he asked "Can you do that thing where you hold your cell phones in the air like this?" and extended his arm, mocking those who often hold out their phones to snap a picture, or share a distorted jam for friends listening on the other end. Suddenly, the entire bowl was filled with the electric blue light of thousands of LCD screens.

Yes -- it was magical.

The opening acts were solid as well. Band of Horses lived up to the, um, hype? While there was nothing showy, they were very pleasing to the ears. The surprise of the night for me, though, was Andrew Bird.

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(Thanks again, Pitchfork.com!)

With his revolving gramophone(-like object) and glockenspiel, Bird dared me to write him off as pretentious, but I couldn't. The truth is, I was completely won over by his mad professor schtick.

Dressed in a tweed suit and backed by only a drummer and guitarist, Bird played riffs on a variety of instruments (glockenspiel, violin, guitar) and looped them to create a mellifluous concoction of awesome. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for some live sampling. I'm also a sucker for Jr. High Honors vocab words like "mitosis" and "apropos," which he dropped unapologetically. But my favorite element of the jams were the drummer's unexpectedly solid beats, which grounded Bird's quirky melodies. Without the drumming, I might have written the tunes off as charming and whimsical, but the drums pulled all of the wonderful elements of Bird's music together like a nice scarf would an outfit, or a shot of Patron would an evening.

I listened to the CD afterward; it's pleasing, but nothing like seeing him live. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you see this man in the flesh.

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