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Live Music Review: The Decemberists at Rock City

19 November 18 words: Jon Petre

Bearded men, giant inflatable whales and accordion solos are just some of the highlights from US Indie-rockers The Decemberists gig at Rock City. As it's been over a decade since they last performed in Notts, we thought we'd pop over to see how they fared...

It’s been a decade since The Decemberists last played Nottingham, but their memory of the city is long. They were disappointed to learn that Tales of Robin Hood on Maid Marian Way is no longer open, then bemused when the audience shouted back that it’s been shut since 2009. If their knowledge of Nottingham is patchy then their love for their fans isn’t. You have to give it to The Decemberists, they know how to put on a good show.

The Decemberists are a big name in the right circles, with about 740,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. A Decemberists song is usually a story; drawing on historical events and folk music to make something offbeat, creepy and quaint tracks that brought them to the top of the US Charts in 2011. They appeared in that Simpsons episode where hipsters invade Springfield, then cameoed in Parks and Rec and The US Office. They even have their own board game which some Portland Republicans mistook for a Ouija board and tried to ban.Their UK followers are a small but dedicated cadre, who’ll be pleased to know that their UK/Europe tour is going until the 17th of November. The Decemberists aren’t just some band from Portland, Oregon – they’re where you go for beardy men and mandolins; the hipster’s hipster.

Since 2015 The Decemberists have taken a new direction with their sound, focusing less on storytelling and tricksy lyrics and more on synthy bass and power riffs. Their last two albums, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World and I’ll Be Your Girl garnered mixed reviews from some, being a departure from their usual fare, but they’re still The Decemberists and their brand is still unlike anyone else’s. The setlist on Sunday was a mix of old and new, and it’s clear that the band knows their crowd and plays to it. Even though the current tour is supposed to be touting I’ll Be Your Girl, most of the songs they played were long time fan favourites.


"The Decemberists aren’t just some band from Portland, Oregon – they’re where you go for beardy men and mandolins; the hipster’s hipster"

The band’s energy onstage is infectious, with frequent skits and audience-participation a key feature of a Decemberists concert. Frontman Colin Meloy does a good job of keeping everyone engaged through multiple instrument changes, with an accordion solo from Jenny Connolly a notable time-filler while Meloy sorted out his harmonica. Good indie-rock fun, if a little niche.

Most impressive of all was the final track of the evening, the famously-long sea shanty ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’, which tells the story of a homicidal sailor trapped in the stomach of a whale. By now a staple of a Decemberists concert, at the climax of the song the crowd is cued by Chris Funk to scream like you’re being devoured by a whale. An inflatable whale is then let loose to bounce overhead. To repeat; they know how to put on a good show. The Decemberists are great performers, making music that feels fresh and still finding ways to surprise fans after nearly eighteen years.

Rock City website


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