The Decemberists ignited a sold-out Meijer Gardens crowd with songs old and new Wednesday. Local Spins asked a member of The Crane Wives to offer her take on the show. The review, photos and set list.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With The Decemberists returning to Meijer Gardens on Wednesday, Local Spins decided to ask a member of the Grand Rapids folk-rock band whose name was inspired by a Decemberists song to provide her take on the group’s tour stop. Here’s the concert review by singer-guitarist Emilee Petersmark of The Crane Wives. And, yes, The Decemberists did indeed play “The Crane Wife 1 & 2” at Wednesday’s show. Scroll down for a photo gallery and set list.
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It had been four years since Portland’s The Decemberists graced the stage at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a gap that felt especially long after their 2021 tour dates were canceled due to safety concerns about COVID-19.
Upon their return to the amphitheater on a gorgeous Wednesday night, frontman Colin Meloy recalled his band’s last visit to Grand Rapids, explaining to the audience that he’d lost his voice before the show and had given a shakier performance than he would have preferred. He promised fans that he was feeling great at the moment.
“I’m going to try to sing my heart out for you guys,” he vowed, then jokingly warming up his voice before launching into the high and strident melody of “Song for Myla Goldberg” from the 2003 album, “Her Majesty The Decemberists.”
The band’s dark, highly literate and history-steeped storytelling — mixed with jaunty and often cheerfully-melodic folk melodies — created an appropriate backdrop for a crowd that couldn’t decide if it wanted to sit or stand (Meijer Gardens caters to a mostly seated crowd, though the band was able to get the audience on its feet multiple times throughout the evening).
After an opening set by singer-songwriter and Georgia native Jake Xerxes Fussell, The Decemberists led off with a track of orchestral chaos before resolving into the familiar acoustic chords of “Leslie Anne Levine,” a track in which multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee shines as an accordionist.
The band’s set list for the evening drew from a wide range of tracks across their discography, from an extended version of the ever-relevant, disco-esque “Severed” from their 2018 release, “I’ll Be Your Girl,” to the rarely heard and sentimental “Shiny” from their 2001 EP, “5 Songs.” They even graced the capacity crowed with a brand new tune, unofficially named “William Fitzwilliam” by fans who’ve heard it in the past few weeks on the group’s “Arise from the Bunkers” tour.
Mid-set gems such as “Down by the Water” (from 2011’s “The King is Dead”) and “Make You Better” (from 2015’s “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”) brought even more people to their feet, joining those at the front of the stage who never sat down for the entire show.
RAMPING UP THE ENERGY, ENCOURAGING SING-ALONGS, CREATING MAGIC
There were no banners or puppets on stage this time, as there have been in shows past (the 2018 tour stop at Meijer Gardens included an audience-surfing, inflatable whale). However, there was a special magic in getting nothing but the music, the band shedding their prior set-dressing and delivering a straightforward show that ramped up the energy high enough to convince the crowd to leave their chairs and dance.
Wednesday’s concert marked my first time attending such a large show since the pandemic hit, and I was enthralled by the way the crowd had shown up for The Decemberists, singing at the top of their lungs.
The ever-entertaining and witty Meloy would occasionally step back from the mic to hear the audience sing out key phrases, “Here all the bombs, they fade away,” echoing over and over across the lawn until the band’s encore ended.
For a large portion of the show I found myself watching a man in a white hat standing at the front of the stage. He was having the time of his life, arms akimbo, swaying on his feet and bellowing the lyrics to every single song.
It was like he had been waiting for this moment for an eternity, and across the amphitheater I understood how he must feel, his ribcage vibrating from the bass and his favorite band playing 10 feet away.
The pandemic has changed a lot about how we plan and execute concerts like this, but it hasn’t changed how it feels to hear music that means something to you live and in person.
The way I felt hearing Meloy sing the first warbling lines of “Crane Wife 1” reassured me that the magic of live music was still alive. – By Emilee Petersmark
Next Up at Meijer Gardens: Boz Scaggs, The Robert Cray Band and Jeff LeBlanc at 6:30 p.m. Monday (Aug. 22). The concert is sold out. Details here.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Decemberists, Jake Xerxes Fussell at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek
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