The Decemberists at SummerStage
I arrived in Central Park tonight with no ticket, planning on just sitting outside—maybe on the big rock across the way*; maybe up against that wire fencing closest to Rumsey Playfield**—and listening to the great triple bill playing at SummerStage.
The first thing that happened is this: I missed virtually all of Land of Talk because I'm lame.
The second thing: I stumbled across a way to get inside for only $20 (tickets were $36.75 with all the fees, plus it was sold out), and with a wrist band that gave me access to the special reserved seats. Nice, no?
So, the show. First I have to say that from where I was sitting, in the bleachers in the back, the sound was appalling. The guitars, the bass, the keyboard, the mandolin, the banjo, all unbelievably muddy, and constantly fading in and out. It was almost embarrassing how bad it was. By the show's second half it started to sound better, but maybe I was just getting used to it, with my ears filling in the gaps. Fortunately, that most powerful and important of all Decemberists instruments, Colin Meloy's voice, was miked perfectly, clear and strong. And these songs are all so good (and, to me, so familiar), that in the end it didn't really diminish my enthusiasm for being there. However, I am glad I only paid $20...
Anyway, Meloy and crew were their usual charming, energetic, charismatic selves, with less banter and shenanigans than usual, perhaps, because they wanted to get in the show before curfew, which was by no means a bad thing.
The 90-minute set list went as follows:
1. July, July
2. Billy Liar
4. The Perfect Crime #2
5. The Sporting Life
6. From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)
7. The Engine Driver
Meloy called this "sort of about being on tour, and sort of about being a mid-level worker in Northern Michigan... if you can handle the crushing paradox."
8. The Crane Wife 3
9. The Island: Come & See / The Landlord's Daughter / You'll Not Feel the Drowning
This was the best number when I saw them in March, and it might have been my favorite tonight as well. Really rocks live.
10. O Valencia!
11. Sons and Daughters
The crowd sing-along at the end of this ("Hear all the bombs fade away...") worked less well outdoors than I imagine it would in an enclosed space, where our voices could really ring out.
12. Red Right Ankle
14. Chimbly Sweep
Meloy put the band members to "sleep" one by one in the middle of this song, then got the entire general admission standing-room audience to also lie down and be quiet. Amazing.
15. The Mariner's Revenge Song
As far as the openers go, I mentioned that I missed Land of Talk, and though Grizzly Bear put a lot of heart into their performance, their's is a tough type of sound to win over a distracted crowd in a big outdoor space.
Tonight was one of SummerStage's "benefit" shows, which is why it wasn't free. For a look at the season's remaining concerts, free and otherwise, there's a schedule here. SummerStage is located in Central Park, at the Rumsey Playfield, just east of Sheep Meadow and the bandshell, at around 70th Street.
* From the big rock you can see... nothing.
** Sitting near the fence you can also see... nothing.
But you can hear quite well from either spot... I had a great time listening to Sonic Youth and Wilco a few years back at Option #2. Worth considering for the Beastie Boys on August 8.