Ever been to a show at the Whatever-It’s-Called-Now Amphitheater in Clark County?
“Hello, Portland!” some band will inevitably say, to the groans of Oregonians and Washingtonians alike.
Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, on the other hand, is a local, and also someone who appreciates the value of precisely chosen words. “Hello, Troutdale!” was his greeting to the sold-out crowd of 7,000 at Edgefield’s Concerts on the Lawn last Saturday. “It’s been a while.”
Indeed, the band last played Edgefield in late June 2018, and this “Arise From the Bunkers” tour (which had begun just three nights earlier in Meloy’s ancestral home, Montana) was the band’s first time on the road since November of that year (also, if you missed the Aug. 6 show, their Friday, Aug. 12, show at Denver’s Mission Ballroom will be livestreamed on Mandolin).
“A lot has transpired since we last saw you,” Meloy continued, mentioning both the wildfire smoke of 2020 and the ice storm of 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, scarcely needed acknowledgment. Bassist Nate Query, the group’s sole non-singer, wore a mask onstage, and most of the people in the audience probably had tickets to one of the band’s 20th anniversary shows in the summer of 2020. Those were initially rescheduled to the summer of 2021, and then became three nights of streaming in the spring of 2021.
Now, in 2022, it’s basically a whole new tour and a joyous celebration of just finally playing shows in front of people. Keyboardist Jenny Conlee-Drizos and guitarist Chris Funk spent most of the night wearing perpetual smiles, while Meloy triumphantly perched atop his monitor before the band had even started its first song, “July July July” (yes, in August).
The crowd sang along to that one, whooped exuberantly for Conlee-Drizos and Funk’s raggle-taggle accordion-guitar duel on the dirge-y mining anthem “Rox in the Box,” and then sang along even more to the harmony-laden “Sucker’s Prayer,” a song from 2018′s I’ll Be Your Girl that already feels like canon. “I WANNA THROW MY BODY IN THE RIVER AND DROWN!” they bellowed, prompting Meloy to put his hand over his heart, moved (while also grinning at the content of his lyric).
The Decemberists are now a six-piece live band, with “Decemberist-in-training” Lizzy Ellison (Radiation City, Cardioid) replacing the Chicago tag team of Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor on guitar, keyboards and vocal—including the duet on “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then).” The Portland (sorry, Portland-area) show also included shout-outs to Conlee-Drizos’s friend Lisa, who was attending her 101st Decemberists concert (!), as well as a guy who used to work in a kitchen with Funk (“Steve, what’s up, man?”).
Later, Meloy’s sincere announcement that anyone up front who needed water could get it from security turned into a bit of still-timely political history. “I think that’s actually fluoride he’s passing out, Portland!” Meloy, a vocal proponent of 2013′s failed referendum, couldn’t resist joking.
It was a crowd-pleasing, outdoor summer set, comprising equal parts hits the casual fan might know (“Make You Better,” “Down by The Water’'), classic album tracks (including the one-two punch of “The Crane Wife 3/The Island,” with Nelson on guitar and Conlee-Drizos in full Rick Wakeman mode) and deep cuts (“Riverswim,” from 2015′s Florasongs EP).
There were also two new songs, “Black Mariah” and “William Fitzwilliam,” while the highlight of the set might have been “Severed” (also from I’ll Be Your Girl), which lived up to Meloy’s description on on his Substack as a “kind of Can-jam, somewhat de-synthed” version, which meant it also had a similar feel to Wilco’s Neu!-inspired “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”
The crowd-singing continued for “16 Military Wives,” which Meloy has also updated by changing the line about “pristine moderate liberal minds” to “pristine moderate neoliberal minds.” And then, for the closer, it was back to (somewhat) deep cuts: “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade,” from the band’s 2002 debut Castaways and Cutouts, complete with a rare segue into “Ask” by The Smiths. Plus yet another sing-along (after that Lin Manuel-Miranda song) for the final encore: “Sons and Daughters,” just like on “Decemberists Day” at City Hall in 2015 (ah, the Charlie Hales years).
“Here all the bombs, fade away.”
WATCH: The Decemberists’ Friday, Aug. 12, show at Denver’s Mission Ballroom will be livestreamed on Mandolin.