Ten years as a band. Six studio albums. 20 live tracks. It seems like the right thing to do, considering few musicians now project the kind of longevity that U2 or the Stones have managed. Having said that, tracks off The Decemberists’ last studio album, The King Is Dead, don’t appear to be reworked in any special way for the stage — something that may make casual fans and curious listeners happy, while annoying others who believe live performances ought to take studio versions up a notch.
What makes this live compilation work is the fact that it’s so hard to pin the band down. When it comes to their work in the studio, they have a habit of jumping like bees from concept to concept. Their repertoire spans everything from experimental rock to California pop, acoustic warbling to a concept album based on a fairytale. It makes for a two-CD package that is anything but boring, irrespective of where you decide to jump in.
An immediate highlight is The Crane Wife 1, 2 and 3 (off the aforementioned fairytale-inspired album), which has the band playing all three parts together for the first time. It works a lot better than the studio version that, for no apparent reason, separates them.
Old favourite Oceanside (Sweet Anabelle, as seen reclining on an ocean swell, as the waves do lather up to lay her down, ‘til she’s fast...and sleeping, oh well) continues to delight, as do the solid but staid versions off their last album (Calamity Song, Down By the Water, Rox in the Box).
In between these moments of magic and inspired lyricism is some vaudeville, amusing banter, even a bit of yodelling. It almost makes you wish you could see them perform live, which may be the whole point of this exercise.
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