Rock bloggers live the dream. On Wednesday, four FREE tickets to see the Decemberists simply fell out of the sky and landed in my hot little hands. We were all over it and took full advantage. How cool is that? Who knew that blogging would be like this? Oh, and did I mention that these tickets were FREE?
The show was at the Mann Music Center in Philly. Have you been to the Mann? I hope so because it is one of the best large venues ever. It is a seasonal theater with a covered pavilion space and a lawn in the back. Inside the pavilion, the seats are spacious and the rows give you enough room so that you aren’t jamming your knees into the seat in front of you. The BRP freebies were inside the pavilion, and in fact, were in the left orchestra about 15 rows back from the stage. They were even on the end of the row. Pretty freakin’ nice! And the acoustics at the Mann are really good for a big, open space.
It had been a crazy ten days or so. The Man (not the venue, but the boss) had ordered my butt to Houston the previous week – a last minute special, thank you very much. The Man is so thoughtful. I landed in Philly on Tuesday night around 10 pm or so and was on a 7:30 am flight the next day to go to California on a personal matter. I got back on Monday, went to the show on Thursday, and am typing this on yet another plane on Friday, this time headed to Florida. It’s a hard damn life that rock bloggers lead, let me tell you. At least I’m not doing the rock musician thing and driving around the country in a smelly van stuffed with equipment. Bloggers rule, musicians drool.
As lousy as the weather has been this spring in Philly, I at least got to see some sunshine and feel some heat. Houston was hot but not August brutal, and California was hot but dry – the only clouds I saw out there were right at sunset, and it seemed like Mother Nature threw them in just so that they could blaze all pink above the mountains and make the scene even more special. I caught a few semi-decent days in Philly, the best of which was the one that included the concert. Let’s face it, life hardly ever breaks this well for any of us, and I had some shitty things happen during this time period, too, but it was a pretty good pull all in all.
The view from the top of the hill at the Mann is of Center City Philly, and from that overlook, Philly actually looks like a nice place. The skyline continues to grow, and the Mann’s wooded setting in full green made it super sweet. Sure, California has a lot of sun, but it’s semi-arid and the woods are thin (and what is there has a tendency to catch fire - a lot). I’ll take the East Coast with its dense deciduous forests and lush green hues. In fact, when I got home today, I stepped out of my car and got a huge blast of the smell of honey-suckle, which is so sweet and always triggers nostalgia from my youth. You are right that honey-suckle is a weed, and grows fast as the devil. And while I trim it back, I never get rid of it all because I just love the smell and look of the plant in bloom. It’s East Coast perfect. Almost as good as the fireflies that hit this time of year, too. Nature never acts with just one thing, but instead blasts all kind of good things your way – just stop to look around and tell me I’m wrong.
Hey, isn’t this supposed to be about the Decemberists? Oh yeah, I got caught up there and went on a frolic and detour. Apologies. I’m not a big fan of the Decemberists, but I knew a couple of tunes, and since the tickets were FREE and I love to see live music, it was a no-brainer (particularly important for me for obvious reasons).
Opening for the Decemberists was M. Ward. At first, he came out with just an electrified acoustic guitar, and I was like, uh oh, here we go again with the single troubadour thing. After trekking through a couple of forgettable folk tracks, 4 more people joined him on stage. What a remarkable difference a full band makes! A full band provides the impetus to kick up the volume and the tempo. And this was no exception, thank god. I really enjoyed the rest of the 40 minute set listening to bluesy rock with enough guitar solos to satisfy, but not overwhelm, the guitar lover in me. It was a good start.
On came the Decemberists. The first song was, oops, a solo effort with an acoustic guitar. Sigh. What was worse was that the song, My Mother Was A Chinese Tattoo Artist, was packed with lyrics that tried too hard to be clever. Think Craig Finn on steroids. We were looking at each other and thinking “well, at least we have good seats and the tickets were FREE.” Yet another solo effort followed, basically of the same ilk, until the rest of the band came on stage.
The band has A LOT of musicianship. At various times, the band members played the staples of drums/bass/guitar/keys/harmonica but also the sax, stand-up bass, and accordion. I love the accordion with its sweet but cheesy sound that evokes bad European folk songs, and its use by rockers is usually pretty special: think Joel Guzman playing the squeezebox along with Joe Ely on guitar and you get my drift. Anyway, there were many talented musicians on stage and that fact, along with the gentle evening breeze, helped to carry even the crappy songs.
The band has some good tunes. Check this one out, called O Valencia, followed by Down by the Water. Both were highlights, as was Ben Franklin’s Song, a tune which was perfect for BF’s town.
How about the last song? I’m not even sure what to call this one. Long, odd – something about ultimately being eaten by a whale – The Mariner’s Revenge Song features lyrics that tell an epic story, and it seemed to be a crowd favorite but left us all going “huh?” I did get some interesting photos of a balloon whale that they moved around the crowd, Macy’s parade style.
These guys and gals had a good sense of humor. They invited the crowd to take photos only during one short time, and all jumped around goofily around the stage for that period. And any band that says “get your nose out of your phone and exist in the present” is cool with me. (Haven’t you had enough of people grabbing their phones and checking to see who sent them a text while they are allegedly talking to you?). They also brought along cool visuals with a backdrop featuring a skull with eyes that lit up and twirled.
We had a pretty good time, but this isn’t a band where I’m going to rush home and Spotify them. They aren’t the Weeks or the Brian Jonestown Massacre, for instance. But they were totally worth the price of admission, and the evening couldn’t have been more beautiful. So I’ll give it a thumbs up anyway.
There are a lot of great shows coming up. I’ve cadged tickets to a couple of them, and am beginning to circle the calendar for others. And there are a bunch of other non-musical things that have my kids telling me that I’m old and need to slow down. Ha! Keep up and have fun with me, ok? And with that, I’m outta here. Be good and live in the present.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.