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..."