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17 mar 2011, 11:26

Wed 16 Mar – The Decemberists, Blind Pilot

I've listened to Blind Pilot a few times on my last.fm player, but didn't have any enduring memory of their sound from that experience. Not knowing quite what the expect, I was pleasantly surprised - obviously, any band asked to open for The Decemberists will be quality, but Blind Pilot managed well in front of such a large crowd. They gave the impression of being a / band using acoustic instruments, rather than the -influenced rock I'm used to from Colin Meloy. I thought the first two tracks were a bit lack-luster, but by the time they got to The Story I Heard and 3 Rounds and a Sound, they'd really hit their stride. Sadly, there were quite a few people at the Apollo who weren't there for the music and instead chose to chat loudly throughout Blind Pilot's set, which spoiled the experience a bit for me. Others had a similar complaint. Why pay £20 for a ticket if you're just going to gas with your mates rather than enjoy the music?!

After the requisite break to allow the roadies to tune the vast number of guitars Colin gets through in the course of a single show, the main lights dimmed. Blue lights came on over the stage and a voice came over the loudspeaker announcing itself as the Mayor of Portland, Oregon, Sam Addams. He proceeded to coach members of the audience into introducing themselves to their neighbours, and then took us on a short guided visualisation of a walk through a rainforest in the Pacific Northwest. During the course of our walk, we "bumped into" a band a travellers - who were, of course, the band.

They opened with Shiny, a track off of Five Songs that I hadn't heard very often. Then they moved into material from the new album, Down by the Water, Calamity Song, and Rise To Me. The first two suited the venue very well, with their good energy and eminently singable choruses, and Rise to Me is always touching.

They launched into some old favourites after that (The Bagman's Gambit and We Both Go Down Together ["Our song about joint suicide"]).

The band included two songs from The Hazards of Love in the set-list. Perhaps I'm unusual, but I really don't like that album - not because the music is bad, but because it's just not as good/accessible as their other material. For me, you could easily tell when a Hazards of Love track came on because the audience went quiet/couldn't sing along and stopped dancing. Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga) is catchy, yes, and a decent song, but it just doesn't ring with the same clarity as their other tracks. Shout out if you know what I mean or disagree - always happy to hear from others.

Then, after a brief, impromptu Bob Seger cover (Night Moves) that lasted a minute or two, including some good audience participation, the most ambitious 20 minutes of the night were attempted - The Crane Wife 1 & 2 and The Crane Wife 3. I felt like Colin's voice stood up well and rang out clear and true into the venue. My boyfriend commented that it lacked the starkness of the album version, but I marvel at any band that can play a lengthy love ballad-cum-parable based on a Japanese folk tale and keep a crowd of 5000 completely entranced.

After that, Rox In The Box was introduced as an "early 20th Century Butte County labour song". What a tune - it had more energy live than on the album and everyone was singing along happily. This segued nicely into Don't Carry It All, another song everyone could sing that has a lovely beat carrying it. The other obvious choice from The King Is Dead was This Is Why We Fight, which again had everyone singing along on the chorus enthusiastically.

Then the stage was plunged into red light and the band launched into The Rake's Song, with Colin afterwards accusing us of being complicit in child murder. 16 Military Wives finished the main body of the set, with some immense audience participation (although not as good as the orchestration Colin pulled off at the Coronet in November 2009!). I will always appreciate the Decemberists front man's ability to banter with large numbers of people. Highlights of banter from this evening were his assertion that he can never understand hecklers in London and thus assumes everything said is a compliment. When someone shouted out, "What a band, what a fucking band" he conceded that he had heard however!

The first encore was spoiled (in my opinion) by the inclusion of another Hazard's track, The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned). Why play this track when there are at least a dozen the audience were dying to hear (I heard shouts for Eli the Barrow Boy and O Valencia! just in my section alone, and I would've loved to hear California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade or Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then), for example). I'll bet the number of people hoping for The Drowned was similar to the number hoping for Night Moves!

Then, of course, they concluded the first encore with The Mariner's Revenge Song - what else? Delightful banter and practice proceeded the main event, as we had to practice screaming on cue. Favourite part of this bit of the gig was the audience waving in time from side to side with the band during the shanty interlude in the middle. Awesome!

Sadly, I had to leave early because of trains (why, oh why is the Apollo so far from any of the main train stations?!) and so apparently missed June Hymn and a bit more chatting. While it's a good song that I enjoy, I'm glad I didn't have to leave only to find out they'd played one of the old classics.

Overall, it was a polished, accomplished performance. The band were relaxed and fun. Sara Watkins did well in her role on fiddle/electric guitar/vocals. The spark was missing for me, though - it was a very good gig, but it wasn't a special gig. I wonder how much of that had to do with the size of the venue, the choice of material, the fact that we were the last stop on a tour (and hence maybe the band were a bit tired?) - it's hard to say. For £20 a ticket, I would've liked a bit more but I guess as the band becomes more popular (as they should - amazing music comes from The Decemberists!), it's less likely to have those special moments. It's a shame, but I'd definitely go again next year if I had the chance. Can't wait to see what their next album brings!

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