The Decemberists and Wye Oak - The Greek - 08/12/2011
If there's one god awful concert tradition that needs to die of a combination of ebola AND bird flu, it's the ridiculous ritual in which the band prematurely ends an excellent set, dishonestly says 'goodnight' and 'thank you' and walks off the stage. At which point the crowd dutifully shouts 'more' or claps or whatever is required to 'convince' the band that the encore they have already committed to performing is in fact something they have only agreed to do because of the overwhelming crowd demand. It happens so often it feels about as spontaneous as an Easter Sunday mass. All it needs is the Bishop of Rock dispensing wine to make it officially predictable .
I bring this up because The Decemberists' appearance at the Greek Theater (with openers Wye Oak) -- featuring music from their latest, The King Is Dead and a smattering of older material -- was excellent. Despite the fact that they still went ahead with the stupid encore ritual.
"Thank god somebody turned the house lights down. Rude, right? Get it? Because we're outside? Ahh, jokes. Nobody wants to hear my jokes."
That was Jenn Wasner's late-set crowd banter, and despite the fact that it went over like a lead balloon, I laughed anyway. Also, I'd just watched Wye Oak rock the hell out of my ears. Their set was mostly material from their latest album, Civilian, with a smattering of songs from previous records. I hadn't given them much of a listen prior to seeing them live, but what was initially mild skepticism turned into John Birch Society level fervor by the end of their set. Yes, I mean that I am now a total reactionary wingnut, but for a band.
There are plenty of groups consisting of nothing more than a guitarist/singer and a drummer, and they're often excellent. Somehow, however, I continue to be shocked. What stands out about Wye Oak is how minimalist they don't sound. Dummer Andy Stack banging on his drum kit one-handed, Rick Allen-style while fondling a keyboard, Jenn Wasner's guitar effects and gorgeous voice...There's not a lot going on but it feels like an army of musicians.
Maybe it was frontloaded. The Greek Theater Hospitality Room (awesome, BTW), was piping an REM greatest hits album over the loudspeaker. That was probably due to REM's influence on the Decemberists' latest, but it was appropriate mood music for Wye Oak's droning, shoegazer sound, which is full of cascading minor chords straight out of 120 Minutes. And I mean the version hosted by Dave Kendall. Think My Bloody Valentine. Think Ride. Think The Spinanes or Dinosaur Jr. before they turned into a lame blues band.
I don't mean to suggest that Wye Oak are a boring '90s retread - they're aren't - but that they've managed to capture the sweet spot between reliving the past and drawing from it. If you haven't seen them before, rectify that mistake as soon as you can.
Decemberists review below.