Standing in the lower part of their own portrait The Decemberists launched into the type of music that gives many critics' heart flutters; the dreaded prog-rock-folk-metal concept hour. The Hazards of Love played in full, with all the charming quirks of shouts and children chants that give Pink Floyds’ The Wall a run for its money. This is something the Decemberists have been building up to throughout their entire career with prog first rearing it’s time sapping head on their debut Castaways and Cutouts, continuing right through the back catalogue to the 20 minute EP The Tain based on the Irish folk tale Tain Bo Cuailnge.
The spotlights captured their silhouettes on the ceilings as they softly spun through the first part of the record, accompanied by Becky Stark as the beautiful Margret during Won’t Want for Love and Isn’t it a Lovely Night, and occasionally ramping it up a gear with the entrance of on-stage baddies, the Queen (stunningly played by Shara Worden) and the Rake.
Seeing the opera unfold on stage expanded it far more than a single record listen, and brought it to life far beyond expectations. Full of babies, infanticide and woodland shipwrecks, The Hazards of Love (heralded by the broadsheet lot as the weaker part of the set) was, in my view one of the most exciting performances of a pop-rock group I’ve seen in some time. And with the treat of a second set giving fans even more bang for their buck it’s sad to see the rock-opera format still blasted by peers. In the age of the download too, it’s impressive to see the full record selling almost 20k copies in its first week alone. Now that’s encouraging considering most music critics are already predicting the death of the album.
Having ended the Hazards of Love Meloy introduced the group after what was possibly the longest first number ever at a gig, and come part two the fans still wanted more of their prog brilliance. A medley of hits followed with the classic in-the-round audience participation during Billy Liar and radio fave Sixteen Military Wives. But the real treat was saved till last with the surprise performance of The Mariner’s Revenge Song which was teased throughout the entire second set with an inflatable whale dancing over the heads of an enthused crowd who all jumped at the chance to wail and moan as London was finally swallowed ‘through the jaws of an angry whale.’