You gotta love a show that begins with the front man declaring: “Good evening. I just thought I would mention before we begin that this is NOT a Keith Urban concert. If you want to be at a Keith Urban concert you will be sorely disappointed”. That is Colin Meloy– songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for The Decemberists. And in one fell swoop he proves that this group’s gigs are anything but your average folk affair.
We Will Raise Our Voices To The Air (Live Songs 04.11 – 08.11) is a two-disc set taking in 20 indie folk songs. The tracks were recorded on the band’s 2011 tour of America including a hometown show in Portland. Although the cuts were drawn together from 12 different shows, the album is surprisingly cohesive. At times this collection plays out as gloriously twisted, because the songs are upbeat, the humour offbeat and this makes the proceedings fun where it is obvious that the band and fans were having an absolute ball.
The album includes seven cuts from The King Is Dead and some older tracks. This makes it a rather fitting introduction to the band because the listener is introduced to their warm and lively music including grandiose ballads, sunny pop and Americana tunes that are as American as apple pie. Using instruments like the pedal steel, acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin, piano and harmonica plus brass, they share their literate stories that play out like chapters of history intertwined with pure folklore.
Opening track, “The Infanta” – the song responsible for the album’s title – begins things with a rollicking drumbeat. It’s an epic cut that seems to it somewhere between The White Stripes’ “Conquista” and a Wild West shoot ‘em up. Then it’s on to “Calamity Song” or the one with the rather apt name. Although rather sunny and punctuated by upbeat keys and lush acoustic guitar, it’s actually about the end of the world.
“The Soldiering Life” continues the positive good vibes with a sound not too far removed from Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. One female punter – clearly caught up in the moment – yells, “Stand up and dance!” Meloy replies: “Folks are welcome to do that at any moment. Chris Funk calls it the Footloose moment. It’s something you don’t want to force”. Except that the crowd oblige only to be rewarded with “We Both Go Down Together,” a shiny pop song not unlike one by R.E.M. that is about a joint suicide.
On disc two we get “Billy Liar” a fun sing-along where Meloy assures: “Each one of you has a beautiful singing voice”. It’s not the only moment involving audience interaction because in “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” he gets the crowd to collectively scream like a whale is swallowing them. Then again, the band had been doing some self-indulgent yodelling earlier on, so perhaps it was time to allow the latter to shine.
There is some country swagger in “All Arise!” while “Rox In The Box” is a dusty narrative full of drama and inspired by The Chieftains. Meloy was also self-deprecating as he called “Dracula’s Daughter” the worst song he’d written. But in fairness this does segue into “O Valencia!”
We All Raise Our Voices To The Air sees Meloy and Co. living up the album’s closer, “I Was Meant For The Stage”. The 20 tracks are energetic, melodious and despite melodramatic are extremely enjoyable. The set shows The Decemberists are a veritable tour de force thanks to their collective, easygoing nature and their cerebral and creative folk pop that brims with zest and panache. Like all great shows, this one soars so high it makes you feel like you’ll reach the stars or kiss the sky.
Originally published on 15 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32893/The-Decemberists–We-Will-Raise-Our-Voices-To-The-Air-Live-Songs-0411–0811
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