The Decemberists

Mike Mantin 17/11/2005

This festive season, if you want pomp, storylines and audience participation, don't go see a bit-part Eastenders actor and/or an ex-Gladiator trawl through apanto, go to a Decemberists show. Though they're sporting “two-week tour beards” (except the girls, of course), tonight proves that they've had honed their live show to perfection. As well as bringing their distinctive folky pop songs to life, they provide first-class banter, ask the audience to be silent and crouch down in a quiet bit, force them to pretend they're being eaten by a while and get one of them to tell a surprisingly amusing joke while they tune up.

The perfectly-chosen set spans most of the band's career, from their classic 2002 debut 'Castaways And Cutouts' to this year's majestic 'Picaresque'. If they weren't so perplexingly unknown, I'd call it a Greatest Hits set. Highlights include epic opener 'The Infanta', a beautiful and disco ball-aided 'Los Angeles, I'm Yours' and a sing-along '16 Military Wives'. Singer Colin Meloy strides around the stage, occasionally falling over to the amusement of violinist Petra Hayden, who looks a tad bored but still provides angelic backing vocals. At one point, he exchanges string-plucking with appropriately-named guitar/slide/banjo/mandolin player Chris Funk. Meloy knows the audience expect as much fun and OTT indie showmanship as their records display, and that's exactly what they get.

The finest moment, though, is saved for the encore, 9-minute sea shanty epic 'The Mariner's Revenge Song'. Everyone knows it's coming - one guy shouts “Mariner's… or I'll kill my children!” - but it's quite an experience anyway. This is where those whale noises come in: we're invited to vocally act out their tale of revenge, tragedy and whale-eating at sea and, as we all scream our lungs out to the delight of Meloy and co., we're all transported from a squashed room in London to a whale's belly. And how many indie bands can do that?