The Decemberists and the Heartless Bastards in Toronto

August 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm (Uncategorized)

And so on Simcoe Day, we travelled down to the Guverment to see the Decemberists and opening act, the Heartless Bastards.

Bang! Eight o’clock on the dot, the Heartless Bastards took the stage, and the first thing that was apparent was that the Guvernment had a new sound system: Very clear. 

I heard about the Heartless Bastards  through a review by Carl Wilson at his Zoilusblog, then listened to their album on their myspace page. Erika Wennerstrom’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but you can’t ignore it. Ultimately, it’s compelling. I raced down to my local record store to pick  up the CD.  The band played a 45 minute set and ran through about half of their latest record The Mountain. Applause built throughout their set.

The Decemberists took the stage at about 9:25, in costume no less. They then played the new album, The Hazards of Love in its entirety. On paper and on record. it’s a great idea. A concept album inspired by Colin Meloy’s discovery of an English folk singer named Anne Briggs. The story involves a mortal woman named Margaret, a shape shifter and a forest Queen. If this sounds like a crappy Tolkein knock-off, don’t worry, it’s not.  Full of truly uncool nods to prog-rock, the record is  ambitious, and quite wonderful.

But as a stage show, it suffers from the limitations of the form. To begin with, while you can enjoy the piece, if you don’t know the back story, you might be forgiven for thinking the band was playing the same parts over and over again. It’s also difficult to sustain the story-telling.

But, another but, that doesn’t mean they didn’t give it a good try. Meloy and his partners, along with Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond  certainly played their hearts out. On crowd pleaser, The Rake’s Song, the closest thing to a conventional rock song, the crowd sang along to no less than four drummers.  

After the album, the band took a break, and then performed a second fifty minute set of other songs. Meloy, reminiscent of his solo live album, spent a great deal of time interacting and joking with the audience. The band played a selection of hits, along with a couple of new songs (sounded very good), and closed with Heart’s Crazy . A couple of encore numbers and we were off into the night.

Great show.

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