Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he Decemberists joined the long list of acts who have not shown their faces for quite awhile. Since they were last in town, the band released an album, "I'll Be Your Girl" and EP, "Travelin' On," both in 2018 and saw subsequent tour plans including a 20th anniversary tour in 2020 get squashed by COVID.
A few years later, these fine purveyors of English folk, indie folk, Baroque folk and more were decidedly none the worse for wear in their typically captivating style.
What has always stood out about the Portland, Ore.-based band is the songcraft. To say that these are well-crafted would be an understatement. Lead singer Colin Meloy and his mates deserve tremendous credit for typically infusing the songs, for example, with a bit of banjo here and there (and played by two different band members tonight), harmonica, both upright and electric bass and backing vocals or harmonies here, but not there.
The tour may be a work in progress when it comes to song selection as The Decemberists have much to choose from over the course of 21 years. That meant that they switched up the setlist quite a lot, playing only seven songs from a show in New York the previous night.
All three songs from the most recent effort, "Severed, " "Sucker's Prayer" and the protracted, invigorating audience singalong rocker, "We All Died Young," easily stood up to the rest of the material.
Meloy full-bodied vocals, as usual, commanded the stage. He remains a pleasure to listen to, and fortunately, his vocals are easily heard even on the harder-edged material. And Meloy, of course, has a keen sense of humor with the ability to be self-deprecating as he was in introducing the humorous "The Sporting Life," which he "claimed" was not autobiographical.
When it comes to vocals, one part of The Decemberists that is ultra important is having a highly capable female vocalist. Portland-based indie artist Lizzie Ellison more than answered the call. She underscored her tremendous vocal chops on what may be The Decemberist's signature song, "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid." She nailed it.
Ellison, who also played keyboards, electric guitar and banjo, made her mark elsewhere as well in capably backing up Meloy.
While Meloy may get most of the spotlight, the whole of the band – keyboardist/accordionist and ever popular Jenny Conlee, who also drew a big hand, drummer John Moen, bassist Nate Query and very sharp guitarist Chris Funk – is greater than the sum of its parts.
The one complaint was that at just over 90 minutes, The Decemberists could have included a lot more songs ("The Hazards of Love," "Valencia," "Valerie Plame" and "The Mariner's Revenge" for starters) without overstaying their welcome. Although it's doubtful The Decemberists would ever fall victim to that.
It was a long time coming, but it sure was great to have The Decemberists back in town.
Jake Xerxes Kussell, a Georgia native, opened with a satisfying set of country blues. Seated throughout, Kussell adeptly picked away on his guitar and had the voice to match the music. This brand of music, though, is a tough sell in a big venue (Road Runner holds about 3,500) with a lot yapping going on. Kussell would have been better served playing a club setting.