The Decemberists And Laura Veirs & The Hall Of Flames At The Flynn Sunday September 20, 2009

Words by Tim Lewis.

A while ago a friend keyed me into the Crane Wife. I took her advice and gave it a listen and was blown away. It is an album filled with elegant harmonies and great songs that range from gentle beauty to raging intensity. I went out and bought some older albums and liked them, but not as much. It seemed the band are getting better and better.

My next encounter with them was when Chris Funk appeared on Colbert to challenge Stephen to a guitar duel. Colbert made a big thing about how the Decemberists stole his green screen challenge idea and the duel was set. Funk came on and laid down a few killer riffs. Colbert followed playing Rick Neilson’s 5-neck guitar but cut his finger before the first note and Peter Frampton had to play the solo for him. Funks was sweeter.

The Decemberists appeared a bit later on Colbert and played a song that was ok but didn’t grab me as much. Earlier this year they returned to Colbert with the Hazards of Love under their belt and played The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid. That blew me away and I ordered the album for myself as a birthday present. The album is a step forward from the Crane Wife, and that’s saying a lot! The version of Wanting they played on Colbert was triumphant and Shara Worden’s vocals were over the top.

When the ad came up for the show I sent it along to Don. I think presale tickets were released on a Wednesday but Don took the link earlier and got 4 tickets in row C at the Flynn. Cool.

As show time approached Mike decided not to go. Don’s wife Lisa cancelled and then a few hours before it was time there was just the two of us. As time passed Chris and Rich stopped over. Both were thinking about it but not convinced. I played some Crane Wife then tossed in the video of Wanting. Chris caved and Rich soon followed. We were four and it was time to go.

Don and I made it to the seats for Laura Veirs & The Hall of Flames’ opening set. Also from Portland she led her band through a vocally rich set. The band was pretty smooth and her voice was quirky and strong. It was pretty nice but they did not blow me away like Big Tree and Here We Go Magic did in the previous couple of days.

Chris showed up in the last half of the last song but as the set break unfolded I headed to the lobby to see if I could grab a beer. Everyone else in the theater seemed to have the same thought and the line was pretty long so I skipped it and hung out with Rich. He met a few people who were chatting about the Band. There was a very enthusiastic couple from Montreal who seemed pretty fun. Rich wanted to stand in back for the show so he gave his ticket to the woman. She came to the seats in the 5th row (two rows of seats were set up in front) and was a bit blown away.

Soon it was show time and the lights went out and the Decemberists took the stage. Colin began by announcing they were usually doing set 1 as the Hazards of Love in it’s entirety but singer Becky Stark had a flight delay and was due to fly in just after the show ended. I did not know which singer was which so thought no Wanting would be played. Oh well. They began with a chunk of Crane Wife and then went into a set that would have blown me away if I were more of a die-hard fan. They pulled out a lot of older songs.

Not knowing what I was seeing is a common state for me so I just listened and rocked back in my seat trying to find the groove. Some songs had a nice indie quirk to them. Some were smooth and dreamy. Throughout the set the musicianship was magnificent and they exuded a sense of seriousness and fun in a wonderfully complex way. I did not know most of it and loved it all.

A ways into the first set they broke out some Hazards material. The short dark haired dynamo singer Shara Worden joined them and they jammed out a killer Wanting Comes in Waves. I was elated and just wanted to jump and dance and sing. The audience as a whole had a ton of energy but was respectful of the Flynn atmosphere and stayed seated for much of the show. Next up everyone except Colin and Nate played drums on the Rakes song and the combined four sets of drums pounded out a stunning theater filling rhythm topped by the huge distorted bass and Colin’s guitar and voice. It was one of those concert moments you just never forget.

To close the first set they played a song that had a sing along part. As they jammed it out Colin had the people on his right sing a bit then the people to his left. He then told the people to the right to stand and they jumped in unison. The same happened when he invited the left. He then had them face each other and sing at each other. This left us in the middle sitting while the sections on either side were standing and singing. Soon we joined them and sang our way to the set break.

The second set is now a bit of a blur. There were some more Hazards songs. I think the Apology was in there somewhere. Dracula’s Daughter was pretty funny. Chris switched guitars often. Nate alternated between electric and stand up bass. Jenny filled out the sound on keys and accordion. John kept everything driving forward.

Late in the set Colin picked up an acoustic and started playing a classical piece. It sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it. The whole band joined in and suddenly they were playing Heart’s Crazy on You. What the ??????? Shara belted it out and it was silly and fun and the place was on its feet.

They left the stage and Colin returned for the encore. He played a new song solo on acoustic guitar and it was quite nice. The band returned and jammed out a killer Sons and Daughters. Towards the end Colin had us sing along and the whole theater made beautiful music as the wonderful evening of music came to an end.

Rich took off directly as he has to be on the air at 5am but Chris and Don came over to hang out in the afterglow. It was a fantastic night of music and I am richer for having been a part of it.

This post was originally published by Tim Lewis at his personal blog,