When The Decemberists and Crowd Come Together, It's Magic

Fans were packed upstairs and down to see The Decemberists return to Houston.
Fans were packed upstairs and down to see The Decemberists return to Houston. Photo by Cory Garcia
The Decemberists, Kacy & Clayton
White Oak Music Hall
September 25, 2K18

Colin Meloy has a hard face to read. Between his facial hair and mike placement, it’s hard to tell if he’s having a good time, filled with righteous fury, or wondering what his post-show meal is going to be. It’s one of the things that make The Decemberists so idiosyncratic: Meloy isn’t aloof — he clearly cares about what he’s doing on stage — he’s just really great at being an anti-frontman frontman.

But there are a lot of things that make the band such a weird but welcome addition to the modern music scene. Springsteen filtered through English folklore with the occasional synth layered on top, they’re equally at home with the simple singalong melody of “Once In My Life” and the cinematic scope of "Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes." A synthy stomper like “Severed” makes just as much sense in a set that also includes stories of the debts on the taiga found in “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid.”

And what’s really great about it is that not only does it make sense for the band, it makes sense to the fans. They don’t pause to question it, they just titter every time they recognize the next song, and get ready to sing. Few bands create magic the way The Decemberists do when they give the crowd the room to sing; it’s not the concussive bomb of the simple platitudes of modern pop, it’s something deeper that you can feel in your bones.

Unlike a lot of rock bands turned jukebox musical, their music shines so much brighter when it’s sung by a chorus. For me, it’s the primary reason to go see the band live, aside from just getting to hear Meloy’s voice in person. “Come sing with a bunch of strangers,” is a weird selling point for a tour, but once you experience it yourself, you’ll understand.

So, How Were The Openers?: Kacy & Clayton were perfectly acceptable, the type of band that impresses for one song but everything else sort of blends together into a general morass of songs you’re never going to hear again. Certainly not bad, certainly a band that fits as an opener for The Decemberists, certainly a band whose name I had to look up to write this blurb.

Personal Bias: I wouldn’t call myself a Decemberists enthusiast, but they have a lot of songs that I enjoy, and if they had played “The Rake’s Song” this would have been about as perfect a non-Hazards of Love Decemberists show I could have asked for.

The Crowd: It’s good to know that one thing Beto and Ted Cruz fans have in common is that they’ll talk over the opening act like there isn’t a show going on.

Overheard In The Crowd: “Unless you’ve got an orange wristband you’re going to have to go stand somewhere else,” I heard a security guard say a countless number of times to people trying to take the open tables on the balcony. God give me the confidence of people who show up two hours after the doors open thinking everyone else is ignoring the good seats.

Random Notebook Dump: I’ve been thinking about favorite songs the last couple of days. I have no idea what my father’s favorite song is, and unfortunately it looks like I’ll never find out. I found myself in bed the other night thinking about how sad it was he’d never hear his favorite song again. Me? I had given up on hearing my favorite song live, given the nature of The Decemberists setlists. What I’m saying is that I didn’t quite ugly cry when they started playing “The Engine Driver” last night, but I got pretty damn close.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia