On Wednesday night at 8 p.m., folk rock band The Decemberists, hailing from Portland, Oregon, played a sold-out show on the Mainstage Theater in the UB Center for the Arts – or the “Buffalo Contemporary Arts and Celebration Center,” as frontman Colin Meloy called it.
The Decemberists, made up of Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Moen, are experts when it comes to musical storytelling.
In the 14 years since they released their debut EP 5 Songs in 2001, the band has been fusing history and folklore with a blend of folk, ’60s Brit rock, bluegrass and polka-inspired sounds to create literary pop music.
People from all across New York came to the CFA to see The Decemberists perform their lit-rock live, some having seen the band multiple times, including bespectacled young couple Jeremy DeChario and Natalie Stetson of Syracuse, New York.
“They write their songs with a thesaurus,” DeChario said about The Decemberists. “[They have] a well-constructed narrative.”
The demographic of the audience spanned across generations, like couple Rick and Karen McNamara – whose first live concert was The Beatles – who came to see The Decemberists for the fifth time on Wednesday. The McNamaras first heard The Decemberists on a college radio station.
“I just kind of stopped in my tracks and listened to them,” Rick McNamara said. “I love their roots.”
Canadian indie outfit Alvvays opened for The Decemberists. In a cloud of deep purple-lit fog, the ultra-hip five-piece band played echoey jangle pop tracks from its self-titled debut album, including the radio-played “Archie, Marry Me.”
The band hung out at its table after the show, selling its own records, shirts and posters and meeting fans.
Meloy was introduced with fanfare when he took the stage around 9 p.m. with just a spotlight, an acoustic guitar and his unforgettable voice, opening with the fitting “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” the first track on their latest album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.
Two female backup singers were illuminated partway through the song and began to harmonize with Meloy. Eventually, the rest of the band joined them to finish the song, including Conlee, a player of basically everything with keys, who had previously been unable to tour due to her battle with breast cancer.
Drums, acoustic and electric guitars, upright bass, bass guitar, keyboards, tambourine, banjo, mandolin, glockenspiel and melodica surrounded the band. Each member was dressed in black, except for Meloy, who wore a gray suit with his glasses and beard.
The cover of What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World was displayed behind them, illuminated in lights varying from rose-colored to icy blue. Between songs, the lights dimmed, flooding the band members in a warm sort of candlelight and creating a more intimate ambience in the large venue.
This intimacy was aided by Meloy’s frequent humorous connections with the crowd. He told jokes, poking fun at noisy concert-goers and having the audience sing and clap in unison. He helped deliver an interactive concert, which made the audience feel like they weren’t just watching a show – they were part of it.
“[They are] very interactive,” said Chelsea Robinson of Depew, who saw The Decemberists for her fourth time Wednesday. “They are really personable and get everyone involved.”
The Decemberists played many songs off their newest album, but did some classics as well, including the Grammy-nominated “Down By the Water.” New or old, each song was performed with passion and sounds comparable to their studio versions but with a raw intensity.
Meloy related to the crowd by sharing the “original” version of one of his songs, which he wrote to get his young son to eat breakfast. “Hank, eat your naan bread / Hank, eat your oatmeal,” he sang, transitioning into “Calamity Song.”
“I feel like I know you. I feel trusted. I feel like I trust you,” Meloy told the audience as he began to play the hilarious “Dracula’s Daughter,” which he said was the worst song he had ever written.
The crowd remained seated for the majority of the show, but rose to their feet as the band transitioned into “O Valencia!” from their 2006 album The Crane Wife. The audience stood and danced for the remainder of the show.
Although they ended ironically with “A Beginning Song,” The Decemberists came back to play “12/17/12” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” in an encore. The band delivered an elaborate theatrical display during its final song, having the audience scream as if a whale was swallowing them before the confetti-spewing humpback final “ate” the band. The elaborate display ended the concert with the crowd energized, basking in the glow of ocean-blue light.
Grace Trimper is an arts staff writer and can be contacted at email@example.com