Marissa -- and The Decemberists -- Do Portland | Arts & Culture
“Portland…” a quiet voice dragged off, “our home away from home that is as far away from home as we could get.”
That was how Colin Meloy of the Portland, Oregon band introduced himself to the small but excited crowd that gathered at Bull Moose yesterday evening.
I found myself backstage, nestled between a bag of old garbage and a box of recyclables. I’ve turned up in worse places than that, I assure you.
It’s not everyday a number one band graces Portland, Maine with their presence. But the Bull Moose record store is apparently awesome enough to make that happen. And there I was, amidst garbage backstage at a free Decemberists’ concert, happy as a clam with my blue Moleskin notebook and a red pen.
A number of other people from the media were there as well, but they were busy snapping photographs. For the first few minutes, I was there for the same reason. But soon, through no fault of my own, I forgot where I was. My hands stopped reaching for my pen and my camera stayed hidden in the pocket of my jeans. My toes were a-tappin’ and my shoulders couldn’t stop from a-swayin’. The drums joined the guitar which joined the violin which joined the accordion and I could think of nothing but the music floating around me.
Earlier, before the show, I was able to snag Chris Brown for a few moments while the band checked their sound, practicing This is Why We Fight (see video). My heart was racing. I was interviewing someone as one of my favorite bands was playing just feet away from me. This must be what success feels like, I thought to myself.
Anyway, I asked Brown what I’m fairly certain everyone else was thinking: how did you get a band with the #1 album in the country to play a free concert at a record store in Maine while they were touring the country?!
“Well, I asked them to,” the bespectacled man told me, matter-of-factly, as he nervously played with his beard.
He went on to explain that having the Decemberists at Bull Moose wasn’t so much to benefit the store we’ve all come to know and love. It wasn’t to make money or to draw in customers.
“It’s more a thank you to our community, a thank you to everyone who helps pay the electric bill. We wanted to do something cool for you guys,” he said before dashing off to make sure everything was ready to go.
Minutes later, the six piece band stood in front of me, chit chatting before they squeezed on to a tiny stage, with all of their equipment, inside Maine’s coolest independent music store.
Colin picked up his guitar and harmonica, John Moen his drum sticks. But just seconds later, you’d think the show was doomed. As Jenny took to the stage, she tripped over one of the wires, unplugging something potentially important. The frazzled staff worked to fix it and soon the show went on, after a few jokes from both the band and the audience.
The band opened with Down by the Water, the first song released off of their new #1 album, The King is Dead. More than 200 people squeezed into less than half of the store, and I could see the heads of dozens of people peeping over the CD racks, mouthing the words and bobbing along to the music.
“Sweet descend this rabble ‘round, the pretty little patter of a seaport town…”
It was as if they were singing songs written for our Portland, our little seaport town. They sounded incredible. The small venue seemed to fit the band’s down to earth persona.
But alas, disaster struck again. As they were about to start their third song, a brain melting noise erupted from the stage. The band covered their ears and the event staff once again rushed to the stage.
“We came to Portland to destroy your PA system,” Meloy joked.
They retuned their instruments (see video) and after a few more jokes, they were ready to go, kicking it off again with Rise to Me.
Personally, the little malfunctions made the show that much better. I like seeing how people react to unexpected circumstances. I appreciated how calm and collected the band remained. They’ve been doing this for 10 years now and they easily could have become frustrated. Instead, they helped figure out what went wrong and made changes to their instruments to ensure that they could still give the best possible performance. The Bull Moose staff was also pretty incredible. They stormed the stage and had everything figured out fairly quickly. They’re some of the coolest people I’ve yet to meet in this town and no matter what happened that night, I can say with absolutely certainty, no one left dissatisfied. After all, once a Bull Moose fan, always a Bull Moose fan.
The show did indeed go on. They played a 45 minute set and included my personal favorite off their new album, January Hymn (see video).
Halfway through the set, I reached for my camera. In my half excited, half music-induced stupor, I snapped a photo of the drummer… but I forgot to turn off the flash (which had been expressly requested a number of times before the show). John, the now blind drummer, looked at me and, graciously, smiled. Red faced, I mouthed the words “I’m sorry” and tucked my camera away once and for all.
As they finished, they took their bows and accepted everyone’s applause. Just minutes after walking off stage, they returned for an encore, as they always do. But this time, they treated the audience to a rendition of the Grateful Dead’s Row Jimmy (see video).
“Bear with us,” they joked, “we don’t really know how to play this song.”
And then, once again, they set their instruments down, waved good bye to the audience and with these parting words, they bid everyone a real adieu:
“Much obliged, people of the other Portland…”
And so, they were off, on their way to their next show stop in Montreal, where I’m sure they rocked the pants off Canada.
Also, check out my blog at http://www.shamblingafter.com
**My photos didn’t come out great. Fortunately, the people over at Hilly Town, have some phenomenal shots. Check them out (and keep an eye on this awesome website for updates on music that comes into the area): Hilly Town