The sun was shining brightly; it was a glorious summer day in Minneapolis. On Saturday, June 20th the studious indie-rockers, The Decemberists, headlined 2009′s version of “Rock the Garden”. The new and improved set-up proved to be a success with the stage facing the grassy natural amphitheatre where the old Guthrie Theatre once stood. Sponsored by The Current 89.3 and the Walker Art Center, a sold-out crowd of nearly 10,000 rocked through the mid-day sun to benefit one of Minneapolis’ greatest treasures, The Walker Art Center.
Opening the day was the local electronic rock band Solid Gold, who played a fine set in the peak of the heat. Then came New York art-rockers, Yeasayer, and finally just as the sun was beginning to relinquish, the eclectic southwest Latin tinged band Calexico took the stage with a very impressive set. After Calexico The Decemberists had their turn.
Dusk was just setting in when keyboardist Jenny Conlee took the stage alone. She sat down quietly and held the keys in an organ tone for what was the prelude of The Decemberists’ rock-opera, The Hazards of Love. Soon the rest of the band impressively well-dressed in dapper suits and ties took the stage and the crowd absolutely erupted. Leading the band, singer and guitarist Colin Meloy settled in to “The Hazards of Love 1″ and from there they worked through the entire album with the ever-enthusiastic crowd following attentively. Becky Stark, beautifully draped in a virginal white princess dress played the part of Margaret and was introduced in song four, “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)”. She swayed like a goddess with equally pure vocals and from that point forward I knew this was going to be far more than any old rock concert.
Shara Worden, in a clinging black dress and chopped black hair stormed the stage as the evil queen for her entrance in song eight, “The Wanting Comes in Waves Repaid”. She went straight to the edge of the stage crouching low with her fist pounding down as a slight riot ensued amongst the masses with fists pumping hard and heads banging as Chris Funk and Colin Meloy ground away steadily at their guitars. The energy was absolutely unbelievable, and wow that woman can wail!
From there Meloy took his turn in the pounding and rhythmic “The Rake’s Song”, one of the heaviest of the night as the females Conlee, Stark and Worden all hammered on tom drums. The tune flowed into “The Abduction of Margaret” and ‘The Queen’s Rebuke The Crossing” where Shara Worden once again had the crowd stirring as she howled and jerked across the stage impulsively. The set then calmed as Meloy strummed through “Annan Water” and Becky Stark returned with the voice of an angel for “Margaret in Captivity”. “The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)” once again made the enthusiastic crowd sway as the story concluded. The set ended in perfect fashion with Meloy’s mellow and lovely “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”, and then band put down their instruments and walked off the stage.
It didn’t take long for the band to come back (sans Stark and Worden). Colin Meloy first gave thanks to the The Walker Art Center and Minneapolis for providing a wonderful evening before bringing in “Leslie Anne Levine” from the band’s 2002 debut, Castaway and Cutouts. The band then touched on all of their albums while working through five other songs. The bouncing “Billy Liar” concluded with Meloy conducting a four-part chorus with the crowd. After that Meloy explained he was going to play “the worst song he ever wrote” entitled “Dracula’s Daughter”. Becky Stark and Shara Worden came back in changed attire to end the remarkable show with an explosion. The band covered Heart’s classic 1976 hit, “Crazy on You” with both Stark and Worden ruthlessly nailing the vocals as the rest of The Decemberists played spot on obviously enjoying every moment of it.
The Decemberists have never failed to impress me and this night was no exception. With a wondrous performance combining both music and theater, they provided the perfect art. And art is what we were there to celebrate. It was a gorgeous summer night in the city and it could not have ended on a higher note.
The Decemberists – Walker Art Center, June 20th, 2009 setlist:
The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
A Bower Scene
Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)
The Queen’s Approach
Isn’t It a Lovely Night?
The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
The Rake’s Song
The Abduction of Margaret
The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing
Margaret in Captivity
The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)
The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)
The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)
Leslie Anne Levine
Billy Liar (with four-part chorus by crowd)
Crazy On You (Heart cover)