With an infectious confidence and showmanship, he’s an unlikely rockstar fronting an even more unlikely bunch of rag-tag vagabonds.
Indeed, in this age of sensationalism and Lady Gaga, The Decemberists are the last band you’d expect to hit pay-dirt. For the last decade the band have been playing folk-tinged ditties about gymnasts, chimney sweeps, whale hunters and antique tales of a time gone by. Looking at these plaid-clad bookworms on the Leeds Academy stage, you’d struggle to believe that their latest, brilliant album The King Is Dead went to number one in the US.
But that’s what The Decemberists do best – they defy belief by flying in the face of every expectation of what a great band should be – to magnificent effect.
Opening with early rarity Shiny, they showcase their knack of pulling off obscurity without ever seeming self-indulgent. Flowing into the rich, Springsteen-esque grandeur of recent single Down By The Water, Meloy and co bewitch the sold out Academy by wrapping their vivid imagination around them.
The Irish jig of Rox In The Box has a timeless charm that transcends genre and era while July July is played as an explosive celebration that is both anthemic and articulate. This really shouldn’t work, but it’s utterly perfect. Never did this seem more apparent than during The Island, as only The Decemberists could keep a capacity crowd utterly enraptured with an insane 12 minute prog-folk odyssey about raping a landlord’s daughter before drowning.
Splitting the audience in two for a choral battle in Sixteen Military Wives, Meloy shows an undeniable command of his crowd, as waves of love flow from band to audience and back again. The horn section fuels a reaction of swaying arms and pogo-ing, and by the time Meloy has forced the audience to get acquainted and friendly with one another, The Decemberists unite the room in adulating unison.
Returning for an encore of the tender and beautiful Red Right Ankle and the euphoric Sons and Daughters, the band leaves the audience dumbstruck and howling for a return. Then you realise that although they’ve omitted some of their biggest hits such as The Rake’s Song and O Valencia, they’ve still delivered a flawless exercise in bold and epic ambition and you’d be wrong to ask for more.
While the world foolishly fawns over the lazy likes of Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists are much more than your run-of-the-mill folk band; they are something truly special. I think we got our money’s worth, and then some.
By Andrew Trendell