The Decemberists came to Madison last Wednesday and rocked the plushly appointed concert hall. The Overture Center for the Arts ain’t no Mudd Club or CBGB, but it’s ideal for live performances of concept albums like Brian Wilson’s Smile or The Decemberists’ new rock opera, The Hazards of Love, brainchild of frontman Colin Meloy. Katjusa Cisar’s generally positive 77 Square review of the show is for the most part on target, even her amusing—if snarky—nutshell appraisal of the album’s story line:
The story—well, nevermind the story. A mash-up of renaissance fair, Rush and The Titanic, sprung from the mind of Meloy, it’s all very mystic: a druid-nymph love affair torn by a jealous queen and snarled by deals-gone-bad and marriage-by-drowning. Someday, it’ll make juicy fodder for an ambitious graduate student studying the link between Nordic folk tales and prog rock.
The Hazards of Love is compelling musically and dramatically (after locating a synopsis, here or here, which is something the CD booklet could really use). I do take issue with Cisar’s characterization of Meloy’s performance as “weirdly stiff” and “emotionally flat.” He seemed ironic and cerebral to me. Weirdly stiff and emotionally flat in a good way. No question that guest vocalist Shara Worden brought classic rock sizzle to her Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature role as the forest Queen. But “upstaging” Meloy, as Cisar claims? I’d say instead that their contrasting styles define the composition’s strength, its off-kilter clash of hot and cool, intellect and bombast. Colin Meloy’s penchant during the evening for alternating sips from a long-stemmed glass of red wine and a cheap plastic bottle of water pretty much says it all.
Worth noting for fans: Meloy appears to be blogging now, quoting from Infinite Jest and recounting childhood disagreements with his sister about Depeche Mode lyrics. His sister is Maile Meloy, who has a well-received new book of short stories out, Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.
[Editor’s update: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the last word on the Decemberists’ show to Augie, who’s penned his own enthusiastic review.]