Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Decemberists at the Ryman (8/6/11)

I was late to the Decemberists party. Then again, I'm late to a lot of things. Most times I'm just thankful (and slightly amazed) when I manage to arrive at all. When I saw they were playing at the Ryman -- quite possibly my favorite venue -- it seemed I was destined to go.

But then, I realized none of my friends around here like and/nor have even heard of the Decemberists. For crying out loud, a few weeks ago at a minor league baseball game, Wolfgang revealed he'd never heard of the group Chicago. Anyway, weeks turned to months and as the date approached I had resigned myself to skipping the concert. Until...

I was surprised with a pair of tickets!!!

And just like that I was on my way to see the Decemberists. In August. At the Ryman. I was more excited than Rob Schneider when a new Adam Sandler movie is announced. OK, maybe not more, but just as.

Any trip to the Music City for me frequently includes a stop at my absolute favorite barbecue place in the world -- Famous Dave's in Franklin. I know it may not seem very trendy to choose a chain restaurant as one's favorite, but this is different. Trust me. I'm from the South. If there's two things I know, it's barbecue and sweet tea. Also, fried pork skins. OK, three things.

I've made the two hour drive more than once just to eat at Famous Dave's. The food (and sweet tea) and service have been exceptional every single time. (If you're reading, Dave, I'm open to an endorsement deal.) The only -- and I do mean only -- problem I have is that their sweet water catfish may be even better than the barbecue. But then, Dave must have foreseen this would happen. That's why he gave us the combination plate.

They also have some pretty cool t-shirts for sale. I almost bought this one:

But then I tried to imagine wearing that out in a social setting, and, well, I figure I already have enough trouble trying to appear "normal" at kids' birthday parties.

On to the show, there was evidently a Keith Urban concert in town the same night, which made traffic a lovely exercise in hand gestures and honking. And there was no sign of Nicole Kidman.

The opening act was Caitlin Rose, whom I'd heard of but never heard. She was good, enough so that I made it a point to check her out on iTunes later. She played a short set, probably five or six songs. One of the songs she sang entirely with the mic turned off, enhancing the vulnerability in her voice, as it wafted over the pews, up to the ceiling and stained-glass windows of the old place.

The Decemberists came on stage after a quirky recorded introduction befitting them by the mayor of their hometown, Portland, Oregon. They opened the show with "Oceanside" and followed that up with my favorite song of theirs, "Down By The Water." That was extremely cool to hear live, though it did not quite ascend to the level of hearing Counting Crows do a "A Long December" live at the Ryman, which ranked as the #1 highlight of my life for the year 2009.

It's possible music affects me entirely too much.

One of the first things you notice about the Decemberists is that this is most definitely a live band. The show is high energy, the musicianship flawless, and the sound far exceeds what you hear on the CD.

I'm not sure what genre the Decemberists are considered. According to Wikipedia, they are "indie folk rock." There's definitely some folk there -- Colin Meloy's lyrics are almost more poet than songwriter. Whatever you label it, Meloy's voice sounds as if it were created for the sole purpose of singing it.

I don't remember the entire set list, but I know they did "We Both Go Down Together," "Rox In The Box," "Calamity Song," "This Is Why We Fight" and the most surprising song of the night, a cover of "Folsom Prison Blues."

They came out for two encores. The first of which included the crowd-participatory "Mariner's Revenge." They closed the evening with "June Hymn."

My only minor disappointment in the show is that they performed neither "January Hymn" nor "O Valencia," even though some guy kept yelling for the latter at every opportunity. And no, it was not me. Although if I'd thought of it...

Did I mention I love going to concerts at the Ryman? The acoustics are outstanding. Plus, it is the quintessential not-a-bad-seat-in-the-house venue.

Though you should know before you go that the Ryman was originally a church -- the Union Gospel Tabernacle. I thought this was common knowledge, but apparently it is not. Therefore, the seats are literal church pews, unpadded. I'll admit, it has a way of inspiring you to stand up and get into the show a bit more.

Ah, but there's something sacrosanct about the old lady. Rising above Lower Broadway. Unchanging for all those years. Maybe that's one reason I like the Ryman so much. I hate change. I hate when old stores or buildings shut down or are torn down, and all that's left are reminders of what was, and worse, what isn't anymore.

Then again, there's probably an old codger somewhere, around 103-years-old, lamenting the days when the Ryman was still a church.

"But oh, if I could only get you oceanside, to lay your muscles wide, it'd be heavenly..."


  1. One is never too late for any kind of party!

    BTW, did you get free food?!!


  2. This was absolutely hilarious. i see you're really trying to match me in immaturity.
    I knew that Wolfgang never heard of Chicago (news like that travels fast) and still couldn't believe it. Have you asked him if he knows Santana?.

    I was more excited than Rob Schneider when a new Adam Sandler movie is announced--loved that line and thanks for the info on Famous Dave's. In NY the best barbecue is a chain--Brother Jimmy's--had it on speed dial

  3. I have never heard of the Decemberists but I have heard of Chicago, perhaps own one or more albums and I have eaten at Famous Daves. Two out of three ain't bad.

  4. I saw the Decemberists this year at the Newport Folk Festival and they were great. They played Mariner's Revenge but it wasn't nearly as good without the accordion. And I would have been very disappointed if they didn't play O Valencia.

    In 2009 I saw them on the Hazards of Love tour, and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. They played the entire album beginning to end, then took a break and came out and played a bunch of earlier stuff. Fantastic show.

  5. I have never been to the Ryman; it is on my list of musts.

    I have heard of the Decemberists but I have never heard anything by them.

    Best barbecue is here in Fort Worth; Railhead Barbecue. Because as they safe life is to short to live in Dallas. So when you travel west look us up and Railhead as well.

  6. Music affects me entirely too much, also...thank God. :)

    This sounded like an amazing concert - there's nothing better than good, live music (with great acoustics). Now I must go check out The Decemberists and Caitlin Rose on Spotify! Caitlin's a capella song sounds especially wonderful.

  7. I saw them for the first time at Webster Hall in NYC, and recently at Merriweather Post. I love them so.

    Note: You should play harder to get on those endorsement deals Bone. You're worth it. ;)

  8. Gautami - That's my theory, too. No, I must have arrived too late for the free food.

    Pia - I'm pretty sure he's never heard of Santana. I think the real question would be if Wolfgang has ever heard of Mozart.

    Thank you! I was a little too proud of that line :)

    Ed - How's your Famous Dave's? Because we had one closer to here that I tried one time, and it just wasn't the same. Eventually that one went out of business.

    Susan - Yeah, I was pretty surprised they didn't play "O Valencia." And they only sang a couple from The Hazards Of Love, I think.

    PennyCandy - Yes, the Ryman should be on your list of musts :)

    I linked to a YouTube of one of their songs four or five posts back.

    Railhead. I'll keep that in mind if I'm in the area. I just hope ya'll don't put cole slaw on your barbecue sandwiches out there.

    Sweetest In The Gale - Hope you enjoy them. I think I relate to "January Hymn" a bit too much due to my annual January malaise.

    Cooper - I remember you'd mentioned the King Is Dead album on your blog. Which is a big deal, as I never remember anything.

    I probably should. Surely I could negotiate for free food at any of their locations nationwide.

  9. I've been to two or three around the area and they are pretty much like you described, great service and good food. Because one of my quests in life has been to find the Holy Grail of BBQ, I've found several places that were better but if I had to pick a chain BBQ place, Famous Daves would be near the top of that list.

  10. I know neither Caitlin Rose nor The Decemberists (though I think I've heard of the latter) so I just looked them up. I especially liked Caitlin Rose... thanks for the signpost!

  11. Thats cool. Ive heard of the Decemberists. I just dont really listen to them.
    Im more of a Five FInger Death Punch kinda girl.

  12. I have not heard of Decemberists, but I have heard of Chicago. Does this make me an ok person?

    Also, I saw Famous Dave's when I was in Franklin, but we didn't have time to eat. I thought of you as we drove past.

  13. Bone, I too like the Ryamn. My first impression of it was much like my first impression of Graceland. All the hype before you get there, makes it sound and look like where dreams came true for a select few and you have a bit of that excitement when you enter, but what you take with you upon leaving is truly your own experience. You captured it well.
    I listened to the Decemberist and I can see why you like them. It's chill. Admit it- You are a hippie without hair. :)