Concert Review: The Decemberists at Red Butte

There’s a new Decemberists song, and lead singer Colin Meloy told the crowd at Red Butte Tuesday night, it is as appropriate now as the day he wrote it. It’s a poppy song, sung in cheerful rounds by the Portland band. And it’s title—and chorus—is “Everything is Awful.”

During the chorus Meloy, who had warned earlier in the night that he was in a bad mood, really got into the spirit of the song—in between cheerful refrains of “La la la” from the rest of the band he shouted, “We’ve got a white supremacist in the White House!” The crowd cheered. “A literal Nazi sympathizer!” Meloy went on. And then to add insult to Trump’s injury, “And he lost the popular vote by, like, 3,000,000 votes!”

The crowd went wild. And then, more happy rounds of “La la la la.”

So, yes, Meloy was a little upset and visibly defeated. But then again, the President of the United States had just announced in a press conference that there were lots of “fine people” in the crowd of neo-Nazis who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. Meloy had good reason to be upset. And when he did the precursory “How are you all?” part of the show it went like this: The crowd cheered. “Is everyone just really pissed off?” he asked. The crowd cheered again. “Maybe you should be,” he retorted.

This is a different Meloy than the well-coiffed and sardonic man I saw perform with the Decemberists at Red Butte two years ago. But, aren’t we all a little different now? I know I’m definitely less carefree than I was, oh, just spitballing here… since early November.

The Decemberists are not just Meloy, though.  In fact, the strength of the band is the sum of it’s parts—and in no song last night was that more evident than the first song of the encore: a prog-rock rock opera of a tune,giving everyone time to stretch their muscles, and finally (FINALLY!) giving backup singer (who-should-never-be-a-backup-singer) Kelly Hogan time to shine.

The music of The Decembrists is technically perfect (regular readers will know perfection is a sore point with me—and yes, The Decemberists perfection is a little annoying). They are a fine-tuned mass of people on the stage, and if the rest were in a mood as sour as Meloy’s, it didn’t show. And for a few songs mid-set, they added a member—opener Olivia Chaney—and transformed into another band, a peculiar side-project they call Offa Rex.

Overall, though, this night felt political, from the disaffected look in Meloy’s eyes to the “We’re not so starry-eyed anymore” lyric in “Make You Better,” Meloy seemed angry—and as I scrolled through my Twitter feed finally catching up on the days news, I joined him in his anger.

And then, the second song of the encore and final song of the night, Meloy took it down a notch and nailed the beautiful “Dear Avery,” a tender song about a mother’s love.

Not everything is awful, as it turns out.

To borrow from the title of a Decemberists album, what a wonderful world—what a terrible world. Or put more simply: What a world.

Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy is a former managing editor at Salt Lake magazine. Though she writes about everything, she has a particular interest in arts and culture in Utah. In the summer months, you will find her at any given outdoor concert on any given night. In the winter, you will find her wishing for summer. Follow her on social media at @whynotboth.

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