Thursday, July 26, 2007

Live Review: The Decemberists with the Grant Park Orchestra, 7/18/07

Download: The Decemberists - "I'll Come Running" (Brian Eno Cover, Live On Sound Opinions)

If there were a list of all the modern groups whose music lends itself well to orchestration, The Decemberists would be at the top of the list. The epic, literary, storytelling inherent in Colin Meloy's lyrics (especially with last year's triumphant The Crane Wife) and the ambitious prog-folk of The Decemberists should have proved to be a distinctly keen match of sensibilities. But due to a lack of imagination behind the orchestral arrangements, what could have been an incredibly special show turned out to be just ordinary.

My companion and I arrived at Grant Park around 5:45, about 45 minutes before the show was due to begin. The pavilion was completely full and the lawn areas around it were just starting to become cramped. Check out the picture below for an idea of how crowded it was:

(Photo By Autumn Notter)

We ended up finding a space near the outskirts of the pavlion, but others who showed up at 6:00 or 6:15 ended up walking around the home of the Grant Park Orchestra like Kane from "Kung Fu" or one of Romero's Dawn Of The Dead zombies.

(Photo by Autumn Notter)

By the time 6:30 rolled around, The Decemberists took the stage and opened with "The Crane Wife Part 2." The orchestration fitted the song perfectly, with the woodwind section complementing the main melody exceptionally well. The whole thing felt like an modern update to an epic score from Hollywood's 50s era heyday. If the melody to "The Crane Wife 2" wasn't soaring enough, the Grant Park Orchestra would have certainly have given it quite the boost. Instead, the song sounded like one great music body giving another great musical body an assist. It was an incredible start to what could have been a revelatory night of song.

Problem is that all of the orchestrations eventually started to sound like the same patois of Aaron Copeland and Old Hollywood Film Score. The set was varied, at least - each of The Decemberists albums got their due. But, as is the problem with a lot of rock band/orchestra collaborations, the orchestra got buried with the louder songs ("The Perfect Crime"). Still, "We Both Go Down Together" was one of the night's other successes. The REM-esque, minor-key chord progression providing ample opportunity for the orchestra to milk tension and resolution out of the dynamics in the song.

But after a while, repetition sunk in and most of the songs began to unfortunately blend together. So while The Decemeberists collaboration with the Grant Park Orchestra wasn't a disaster along the lines of Kiss performing with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, it wasn't quite enough to redeem the gimmicky premise of a rock group performing with classical musicians.

One last shot of the crowd:

(Photo By Autumn Notter)

(Jonathan Graef)

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Anonymous Nicole said...

Hey Jonathan,
Just a friendly correction to your review. The reason that "The Perfect Crime" buried the orchestra was that there was no orchestra for that song -- they played it solo. Just though I'd put in my two cents. :-) I enjoyed myself greatly at the show, and you're right, if any current band is going to do well with an orchestra, it's going to be The Decemberists. I thought "The Bagman's Gambit" was very well done, as was The Tain. I'm hoping they will release one of these shows on DVD.

2:42 PM  

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