The Decemberists / Heartless Bastards - live in Chicago (Cover Artwork)

The Decemberists / Heartless Bastards

live in Chicago (2009)

live show

Prior to their Lollapalooza engagement, the Decemberists treated their Chicago fans to a special show at the Metro. What made this particular set so unique was that it was all requests. A week prior, the band opened up a poll for fans to choose which songs they wanted to hear. The system seemed slightly flawed as it was open to anyone, not just ticket-holders, and you could pick as many songs as you wanted. It was my hope that some more of the rarely-heard songs would make an appearance. In the end, it turns out a majority of Decemberists fans and I have different ideas about what their best songs are.

Opening the evening were Heartless Bastards. I was not particularly excited by this. I had seen them open for the Gaslight Anthem a few months prior and they didn't move me then. I held out a slight optimism that maybe they were just having an off night, but it turns out that's just how they are. It really is a shame too because vocalist Erika Winnerstrom has an amazing voice. The problem is that it sounds like she is holding back through each song. Their songs are simple to the point of annoyance at times. I kept hoping that she would just break out and start belting, but no such thing happened. The songs just seemed to drag on and were not that interesting to listen to. Even the pedal steel guitar addition didn't help as I eventually lost interest and got distracted.

After about a 45-minute setup, the sold-out crowd was finally greeted by the Decemberists. Before they began, Colin Meloy prefaced by saying that even though there were only about 1,000 people in the audience, over 20,000 had voted. He also apologized to the few people who voted for the more obscure songs. At that, I had a pretty good feeling I fell into that category. However, my disappointment was quickly lifted as they began their set with their 18-minute epic, "The Tain." This was one song that I was hoping above all others they would play and they opened with it. It sounded absolutely amazing as band members moved about the stage picking up new instruments for each new part. It was a great relief to hear just how good this band sounded live. Meloy has a very unique voice that fits perfectly with the music he writes and it was just as crisp and clear live as it is on the albums.

The rest of the evening's set list was an excellent medley of songs from their entire catalogue. I was relieved to only hear "The Rake's Song" from The Hazards of Love. As much as I love that album, I feel it functions best as a whole and not in parts. Plus, they had spent the entire tour doing that album; it was nice to get some variety. They paused briefly to talk of the recent death of director John Hughes and played the first verse/chorus of OMD's "If You Leave" in tribute. Hit after hit followed as the crowd erupted in cheers at the start of each song and happily sang along. We were even treated to a new song by special request. "The Calamity Song" is a great song filled with trademark Decemberists-style riffs and catchiness. They closed with a rousing rendition of Heart's "Crazy on You." Vocal duties were taken over by Shara Worden (the Queen from Hazards), and Becky Stark (Margaret from Hazards). Worden shined brightest as she proved just how amazing of a voice she has by performing as good and even better in some parts than Ann Wilson. To close their final encore, "The Mariner's Revenge Song" was played. This was a great treat as this is one of my favorite songs of theirs and judging by the reaction from the crowd, a lot of other people's too.

Throughout the night, the band was spot on in every aspect. I have no idea how often they play each of the songs they did that night, but as far as I could tell, they had been doing them every night for years. Even during the Heart cover, the solos were all flawless. Meloy demonstrated his great ability as a professional performer with his great humor in his banter. There was a brief period where some members were taking an especially long time to tune and he turned this around by remarking, "This is actually part of the set. There were a surprisingly high amount of write-in votes for an awkward, extended tuning period." During "16 Military Wives," he got the two levels of the Metro shaking their fists at each other during the extended "la-de-da"s, which was a pretty funny sight to see.

Overall, it was an amazing show. One of the most interesting things about it was the range of people in the audience. There were people 40+, long-haired metalheads, even drunken dude-man-bros who thought my Bouncing Souls shirt was from Target for some reason. Despite their douchey outer appearance, they surprisingly knew the words to the songs, even though they screamed them out of key and off time. Even with the obnoxious drunks and the fact that I was a little bummed to not hear the songs I voted for ("Record Year," "After the Bombs," "The Infanta," "The Engine Driver," "Angels and Angles"), what they did play was more than enough to make this one of my favorite shows of 2009.

Set list:

  1. The Tain
  2. July, July
  3. The Rake's Song
  4. If You Leave (OMD cover)
  5. Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect
  6. We Both Go Down Together
  7. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)
  8. The Crane Wife #3
  9. The Calamity Song
  10. 16 Military Wives
  11. O Valencia!
  12. Crazy on You (Heart Cover)
  13. Red Right Ankle
  14. Sons and Daughters
  15. The Mariner's Revenge Song