Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Oregon Trail, Day 3: May 29, 2011

New to this? Start with the prologue, Day 1, and Day 2!

10:20 am, Redmond OR: Slow start today.  After Sonia and I fail to find a Catholic church in central Oregon with an 11 am Mass, we're forced to abandon Plan Go To Church.  We enact Plan Investigate the Check Engine Light instead.

10:32 am, US 97 between Redmond OR and Bend OR: Josh's iPod, as is customary for it, plays some Tupac.  Mr. Shakur raps the lyric "crack cocaine rocked us," which is probably the cleverest rap lyric I've heard in quite a while.

11:01 am, Bend OR: There is nothing wrong with Josh's car.

11:38 am: Driving aimlessly through downtown Bend, we come to an outdoor market selling items by local artists.  A man who calls himself the "Nutmaster" is selling various delicious nuts; I order some cinnamon pecans with the accent on the first syllable.

12:05 pm: Beer tasting at Deschutes Brewery.  It's slightly pretentious in a winery sort of way, where the beers are described with flavor notes.  They're pretty tasty, and the Twilight Ale is a fine drink, but I still can't stand IPAs.

12:30 pm: Time for the brewery tour.  There's chemical engineering here!

1-2 pm: Bend is no Portland, but it holds its own in terms of local Oregon flavor.
The Cyclepub

Bend Haiku Weekend--one week too early!

Vintage and local.

1:34 pm: "Thaiphoon" might be the best restaurant name ever.

1:43 pm: Ranch Records.  Oh yes.  These guys have Dr. Dre's The Chronic on vinyl.  They also have a poster for tonight's Decemberists show in the window.  I ask the grungy guy behind the counter if they have any more.  "No, the promoters come and put that stuff up, so that's all we have.  If you come back later, when we're closing, we can probably let them go." (He looks at his phone.)  "I mean... if you just want to take it off the wall now, I don't care.  I can just look the other way."  I do, and he does.

2:46 pm: Linner at Deschutes Brewery's brewpub affords us a chance to taste yet more beer.

4:48 pm: While in line for the Decemberists concert, there's some concern about the blanket we just bought.  We got it from Wal-Mart, which is the single least hipster place we might have bought it.  If we were locals, we obviously would have taken a trip to the Goodwill.  Josh turns the bag around so nobody can see the Wal-Mart logo.

5:35 pm: The pre-show music is decidedly twangier here than it was at the Death Cab show.  It's true that The King is Dead has a lot of folk inspiration, but people expecting a straight-up bluegrass concert will end up sorely disappointed.

5:37 pm: The age distribution here is a lot wider than at Friday's concert.  More forty-year-olds, and strangely, more four-year-olds.

5:38 pm: Parenting of the Year Award: baby in one hand, cup of beer in the other.

5:55 pm: Of all the foods the hipsters to our right could have sneaked in, they have chosen raw carrots.

6:09 pm: The first opener, Dan Mangan, totally obeys the Canadian Indie Band Rule by bringing six people to the stage.

7:04 pm: Gabriela Quintero of Rodrigo y Gabriela is pretty crazy, in the way that she's jumping up and down while playing acoustic guitar for a bunch of indie kids.  In the context of metal, she's beyond tame; here, she's rocking hard.

8:07 pm: The hipster couple to my left is discussing their favorite things to buy at Trader Joe's.

8:23 pm: The Decemberists open with "The Infanta"!  It's one of my favorite Decemberists songs, and the very first one of theirs that I heard.  They hadn't played it at either of the other two concerts I'd seen them at, so it was a really nice surprise to hear it here.

It's followed by three tracks from the new album, "Down By the Water," "Calamity Song," and "Rise to Me".  Given that Decemberists albums are usually two-thirds hit and one-third miss, it's pretty much on par. "Water" and "Calamity" are both excellent; "Rise" is okay but doesn't do much for me.

8:42 pm: Yes, that is Jenny Conlee on the accordion/keyboard/auxiliary percussion!  She's undergoing treatment for cancer, and she was scheduled to miss all of the Decemberists' summer tour dates, but she's made a surprise appearance here.  It's awesome to see her, and I've never heard so much heartfelt applause for an accordion player.

Like Death Cab, the Decemberists have done a really good job of sampling music from all over their discography.  Older material (from Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty, two albums that I can never keep straight) includes "Leslie Anne Levine" and "Billy Liar," the latter with some fun audience participation.  Picaresque has a nice showing after "The Infanta" with "The Bagman's Gambit" and "16 Military Wives," the latter also featuring some audience input.

The only song from The Crane Wife turns out to be "The Crane Wife Part 3," but that's as good a choice as any from that album.  I'm still irrationally attached to The Hazards of Love, though explaining the album makes me realize how inscrutable it can be on a first (or fifth) listen.  I got to jam to "Won't Want for Love's" prog rock-y intro for half a minute before I realized I should probably explain what in the world was going on to Josh, who isn't nearly as into the Decemberists as I am.

"Okay, this song is from the Decemberists' prog-rock opera The Hazards of Love.  It's sung by the female protagonist, Margaret.  She's commanding forest plants to do various things.  She can do that because she's pregnant with the male protagonist William's child, and William and the forest are tight.  Well, at least until the Forest Queen gets involved, but that hasn't happened yet.  Oh, and William shapechanges into a fawn sometimes."

Later: "This one is called 'The Rake's Song'."  "As in the cut the house takes in gambling?" (Josh plays a lot of poker.)  "No, as in the immoral pleasure seeker.  He's the antagonist in the rock opera.  This song is about him killing his children in especially brutal ways."

And The King is Dead gets some more love (four and a half months out, this is still the King is Dead tour, after all) in "Rox in the Box" and "This is Why We Fight," "Rox" still being my favorite track on the album.  The main set ends with "This is Why We Fight," but I've seen the Decemberists enough to know that their set isn't close to finished.  On the Crane Wife tour, these guys played a seven-song encore, so I'd be surprised if we didn't see at least fifteen minutes more music.

The encore starts with "January Hymn," also from the new album.  I like "January Hymn."  It's quiet and simple, yet evocative; and it gets in, does what it needs to, and gets out.  Afterward, Colin Meloy starts talking like it's actually the end of the show.  They'd better play something big if my "fifteen more minutes" prediction is going to hold up.  He tells us the next song will "fall apart" without our help.  When Chris Funk (hearty round of applause) gives the signal, we're all to scream as if we're being eaten by a whale!  It's "The Mariner's Revenge Song".

I have a schizophrenic love-hate relationship with this song.  On one hand, it's totally awesome.  It's not the sort of song I choose to listen to frequently, because it requires such a big time and emotional commitment.  But as a creative piece of music that's well-performed and tells as engaging story, it's one of the Decemberists' most interesting songs.

On the other hand, I'm puzzled and a little dismayed that the song is so intimately connected to the Decemberists, particularly by non-fans.  Upon mentioning that I like the Decemberists, I've had multiple people independently ask me "aren't the band that does that belly of the whale song?"  Yes, they're the band that does "that belly of the whale song".  And if all you're expecting to find from the Decemberists is nine-minute-long sea shanties, that's all you're going to find.  But I promise, this band does a lot more than that.

Regardless of my conflicted emotions toward the song, "The Mariner's Revenge Song" was a lot of fun live, and it seemed the perfect note to end the show on.  After a few minutes' absence, though, the band retakes the stage yet again for the rare double-encore.  They play "June Hymn," another selection from The King is Dead that I like a lot, but it seems sort of a strange follow-up to the intensity of "Mariner".  This time, the Decemberists leave the stage for real, having played sixteen songs--not as many as the twenty-four-song behemoth of a set that Death Cab gave us, but a healthy bit of music nonetheless.

The Decemberists are the only band that I've seen in concert three times, and it's a testament to how great their live shows are that I haven't gotten tired of them yet.  Sure, they're playing new music every time, but Colin Meloy engages the audience so well, and the entire band is so accomplished at showmanship that I would gladly see them three more times.

11:06 pm, Redmond OR: Back to the Super 8 for our last night in the great state of Oregon.

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