The Decemberists @ Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC 11/3/06 … And “O Valencia!” Video Contest

Did you know Colin Meloy was a rock star? What we mean is, we always thought of Colin as a hyperliterate stage ham with a pocket thesaurus and 826 Valencia club card. We had no idea how effortlessly he could own CMJ’s largest audience in rapt admiration for two hours. Maybe it’s because he’s on a major now. Or because he wrote one of the greatest albums of the year. But last Friday we saw a new side of Colin. A carnival ringman who writhes on the floor, arms flailing, in between jokes that elicit three thousand belly laughs.

A carefully cultivated Decemberist aesthetic was intact: the pre-show pipe-in from Prokofiev, a backdrop of red lanterns and Japanese landscape mural, and, curiously, some pre-recorded pre-show instructions:

“First and foremost, the band has asked that you be polite and courteous to those around you. Please begin by turning to your neighbor and introducing yourself. … Look around the theater. Marvel at the architectural acumen involved in creating such a thing. Take a moment to consider the untold scores of enslaved Nubian eunuchs who built these walls stone from stone. You might use the opportunity to find all the available emergency exits as well…”

Yeah, it doesn’t sound like a party. But they hadn’t taken the stage yet.

Bouzouki in hand, Colin kicked off the set with “Crane Wife 3,” and if you’re a fan of the new album, you’ll dig this tour: the sextet played eight songs from the progtastic Crane Wife, plus “Culling Of The Fold,” a b-side Colin deemed “perhaps too violent” for inclusion on the record.

(We snapped zero good pics, but these two, and those below, we found on TammyLo’s Flickr. Do check out her excellent photo stream!)


Before launching into Picaresque’s Moz-y “Engine Driver,” Colin surveyed the packed house: “Wow. Hi everybody. We’re going to do our best to pretend we’re playing the Mercury Lounge.” By that he meant he was going to connect with the audience, make everyone feel like a part of the production. But this wasn’t Fez. And he wasn’t taking requests. How do you fold a packed mid-town opera house into the palm of your hand?

Dance contest!

That happened during an extended jam on “Perfect Crime,” the infectious new tune with an organ riff ripped from Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and/or Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.” “Make a circle,” Colin instructed sections of the crowd, inviting rhythmically inclined fans to hop in the center and show off their moves. This was the song that brought Colin to his knees.

The stretch of inspired, if choreographed, insanity was eclipsed first with “O Valencia!” for which Colin made the audience do vocal warm-ups (“This – Is – A – Won – Der – Ful – Showwww” in standard, major triad arpeggio). Then, during “Sixteen Military Wives,” a song “about what happens when people don’t vote,” the band’s energy was at a peak. Meloy literally parted the entire audience red sea-style, and led the two sides in a singing competition. There was “lava in the middle,” Colin explained, so no crossing over! We were all ten years old, and it was a blast playing along. People got so excited they started throwing shit on the stage as Colin pogo’d during the coda. Here’s a bit of video.

We assume Mr. Meloy performs all these theatrics on every tour stop. And YouTube indicates he wears the blazer and red tie every night. You’ll have to fill us in. But it seemed special! And Colin’s mom was there, so we’re thinking he gave 110%. The suite sounds of “Island” floor us every time, but experiencing it live is a must. The Decemberists are having a moment. Go be a part of it.

1. “The Crane Wife 3″
2. “The Island: Come And See, The Landlord’s Daughter, You’ll Not Feel The Drowning”
3. “We Both Go Down Together”
4. “The Engine Driver”
5. “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”
6. “The Perfect Crime #2″
7. “Shankill Butchers”
8. “Song For Myla Goldberg”
9. “O Valencia!”
10. “Culling Of The Fold”
11. “Sixteen Military Wives”
12. “The Crane Wife 1 And 2″
13. “Sons And Daughters”
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14. “Red Right Ankle”
15. “A Cautionary Song”
16. “I Was Meant For The Stage” (no shit!)

As promised in the pre-show intro, the band entertained, edified, and educated (during the encore John Moen and Lisa Molinaro reenacted the Charge of the Light Brigade). The whole event was endearingly dorky. But it rocked.

And now for the news about their music video. The story is that some production company was commissioned to do the animation for “O Valencia!” but the Decemberists were not pleased with the results. “So” they’ve teamed up with MTVu to find a creative fan to fill in the green screen. All the contest info is here. The winning submission will premiere on MTVu (then other outlets), and its creator gets an iMac. Really, what’s more collegiate than an album one cannot fully appreciate without Wikipedia?

We dig the irony of a raw green version…

But we’re also curious to see what the kiddies come up with. If you submit, please let us know! All MTV contests are rigged and we’ll put in a good word for you.