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Gallery: The Decemberists Bring Their Unique Live Experience to New Haven

Manic Presents: The A Peaceable Kingdom Tour May 4th, in New Haven, Connecticut

Words and Photos by: Chantel Malin | @chantelmalin

The Decemberists occupy one very unique niche in the music world. Somewhere in the midst of indie, alternative, rock, Americana, and folk, with a splash of country here and there, the powerhouse band has been making music for an equally unique group of fans for over two decades now. With songs so hyper-literate their verses would be at home in a book of poetry or among the gospel, it's hard not to get wrapped into the lush and all-encompassing landscape they create. New Haven was lucky to experience some of that magic in person during one of the band's first shows back on tour since 2022.

The Chicago based band Ratboys opened the evening with an energetic, upbeat set. Their fun personalities really shone through in their performance and the chemistry between singer Julien Steiner, guitarist Dave Sagan, drummer Marcus Nuccio, and bassist Sean Neumann. Though the venue at this point was already packed full of eager fans, Ratboys still managed to set the stage for an intimate, homey experience.

The Decemberists began their set with "All I Want Is You" and "Shankill Butchers" performed acoustically by the light of a handful of ivy-covered light poles, making for a truly thoughtful and intimate start to their performance. They then launched into their full instrumentation, which included the likes of an accordion, upright bass, trumpet, banjo, and mandolin to round out their unique and varied sound. The band, consisting of frontman Colin Meloy, guitarist Chris Funk, bassist Nate Query, drummer John Moen, and multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee, are clearly veterans of performance art; the group exuded an air of comfort and familiarity, quickly bringing their audience in to feel just as comfortable and at home.

Their setlist was clearly deeply thought out; from a career spanning over two decades and nine albums, the fifteen-song set included at least one track from each of their previous records, with an emphasis on the forthcoming As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again, slated to release in just over a month on June 14. One highlight was the currently unreleased track "Oh No!," an upbeat tune that lays heavy on the brass with a bit of a Latin flair. Another new song, "Long White Veil," tells a ghost story set in the band's home base of Oregon.

Other highlights from the set included "The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid," a selection from the band's 2008 rock opera The Hazards of Love, that truly shows off the musicians' versatility; ranging from bright and upbeat to dark and gloomy, the song is an emotional adventure with The Decemberists as the guide to lead their audience through it. Before launching into "16 Military Wives," Meloy took some time to comment on mortality. He had written the song 20 years prior, and it staggers him to think that another 20 years will pass, and then another 20 - which he may not even be around to witness. Despite the morose entry, he managed to uplift the mood with some audience participation to "sing the death away."

The last two songs of the set were perhaps the most special. "I Was Born For The Stage" closed out the main set, and was as perfect a sendoff as possible. With lyrics perhaps more straightforward than The Decemberists are known for, the song is a simple expression of the love of performance, and the magic of live music; every last one of Meloy's words rang true and heartfelt as he sang the night out. The encore was filled with the 20-minute behemoth of a song, "Joan in the Garden." A composition of truly epic proportions, the performance encapsulates everything that had made the entire concert so uniquely special and immersive. A slow build up from simple instrumentation to a lush and cinematic, all-encompassing soundscape, an instrumental breakdown of controlled chaos, and a return to uniformity, all accompanied by a thrilling light show - the band successfully held the audience enraptured for the entire lengthy performance, a feat and a testament to their showmanship.

After a nearly two hour performance, The Decemberists sent us all home feeling changed after such a special experience. Despite this being their 24th year as a band, their performance is anything but tired or old fashioned. The concert brought back a certain childlike joy and love of music and play that is difficult to properly articulate; the playground of such a whimsical and exuberant performance allowed for a space for concertgoers to truly let go and open their hearts. Feeling so refreshed, it's easy to understand why the band's fans are so passionate about their live performance, and New Haven hopes to see them return in the near future.

Check out the full gallery of The Decemberists below!

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