Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Decemberists at Brixton Academy - 21 February 2015

The Decemberists (pic Louder Than War)

There are some venues that I try to avoid. One of these is the [This week’s Sponsor’s Name] Brixton Academy. I’ve had problems in the past with muddy sound quality and I certainly have problems in the present with the infamous sloping floor which just murders my poor old back and legs. What a drag it is getting old.

And yet… here I am again.

The stage is always impressive, set amongst faux classical columns and mysterious sculpted figures. It’s like being at an outside amphitheatre but without being exposed to the elements.

My misgivings about the sound are initially borne out by the sad fate of support act Serafina Steer, who can be seen onstage making some kind of noise, the specifics of which are lost in the cavernous space. Which is a pity.

However, from this point on it’s good news all the way.

The Decemberists have been away for a while. This is partly due to health scares (fortunately now passed) and partly because band leader Colin Meloy doesn’t feel the pressure to record and tour in constant rotation anymore.

The band are here to promote their excellent new album ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ and their set is artfully split between these new songs and big set piece numbers from their extensive back catalogue.

They are dressed as befits their age and experience, in dapper suits and evening wear. The audience too seems to have mellowed. A Decemberists’ gig of yore would be accompanied by legions of fans dressed as 1850’s New England fishermen, complete with inflatable whales. There is none of that tonight.

The band starts with ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’, a song about how bands change over time. The sound is loud and crystal clear and remains so all evening.

Initially it appears as if we are going to get the new album more or less in its entirety, as new songs ‘Cavalry Captain’ and ‘Philomena’ (“Not about Judi Dench”) follow.

There are five full time Decemberists, but they are joined tonight by two female backing singer/musicians who play a prominent role in all the songs tonight, doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Meloy.

They come to the fore in the quieter moments like ‘Carolina Low’, picked out by a white spotlight.

There is older material too, which gives Colin Meloy the chance to revel in his showmanship. ‘Sixteen Military Wives’ features a segment in which he conducts the differing segments of the auditorium in synchronised clapping. ‘The Rake’s Song’ has the whole crowd in the palm of his hand, shouting and whispering (and thinking) the chorus.

The Decemberists are a class act, still very much at the top of their game.
And even though the next day I am as stiff as an ironing board, it’s been totally worth it.

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