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This was only my second time ever at the large, cavernous Electric Factory. The first time was in 1998, when I saw BEN FOLDS FIVE with opener ROBBIE FULKS. The neighborhood around there (which is still a bit scary and desolate though new office buildings, clubs, bars and residences have been popping up) was a lot sketchier then, or perhaps that’s because I’d never been there before and had no idea where I was, being almost completely unfamiliar with Philadelphia back then. Thus, this was the first time I’d been in there since I moved to Philadelphia earlier this year… and what a difference eight years can make!
My memory is a bit hazy, but I remember the Electric Factory’s sound being atrocious, the sightlines poor and the overall atmosphere stuffy. While the sightlines are still poor and the overall atmosphere still stuffy (not to mention the beer overpriced), the sound was actually quite good from where I was standing on the floor. Furthermore, while the beer was expensive (almost $7 here is ridiculous, whereas it’s de rigeur these days in most Manhattan clubs), at least there were some good options on draft. So despite all the drawbacks, what caused me to actually (gulp) pay to see a show here? Well of course it’s the fact that THE DECEMBERISTS were playing here.
The last time I saw them, they played a show with DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE at Central Park Summerstage in August 2005. Before that, I’d seen them four months earlier at Warsaw. Since then, of course, the band’s popularity has grown by leaps and bounds, they’ve signed to a major label (Capitol), and they’ve graduated to filling large clubs like the Electric Factory and Hammerstein Ballroom, where they played for CMJ. Thus, if I wanted to see The Decemberists this time around, I was gonna have to suck it up and go to the Electric Factory.
Fortunately, they were great so it was worth my while. The set focused heavily on their excellent new album The Crane Wife, which has spent the better part of the last few months on my playlist at home and on the iPod. In fact, they played every single song from it, aside from “Summer Song” and “When the War Came.” They started out playing new songs and during their second song, they launched right into one of the album’s epics, the over 12-minute “The Island” (which is divided into three parts). The good part about it is that for all its perceived ‘difficulty,’ the new album was very well received. In fact, during their performance of “The Perfect Crime #2,” Decemberists leader COLIN MELOY even engaged the crowd in a dance contest, with several audience members obliging.
This being The Decemberists, the theatrics weren’t just limited to songs from the new album. During the performance of Picaresque’s “16 Military Wives,” Meloy orchestrated a screaming match between the left and right sides of the audience (with the balcony taking a turn as well). This was a clever way of having the audience act out one of the song’s points about the political discourse in this country. Picaresque was also represented by “We Both Go Down Together” and the absolutely beautiful “The Engine Driver,” which was the highlight for me.
Many in the crowd sang along with the few older numbers that were played, such as “The Legionnaire’s Lament,” “July July” (both from their first album Castaways and Cutouts), and Her Majesty’s “Song for Myla Goldberg.” For the encore, they brought out members of opening band LAVENDER DIAMOND to sing THE EAGLES’ hit “Take It to the Limit.” I’ve never been much of a fan of this song (or The Eagles in general), but it’s a testimony to The Decemberists that I can safely say that they brought out the best elements of that song and made me really appreciate the song’s yearning in the midst of the psychic oblivion of the LA lifestyle depicted in the song.
Speaking of Lavender Diamond, I have to be honest and say that they just didn’t do anything for me. However, I found it hard to listen to them as we were upstairs in the bar for most of their set and thus very far away. From what I noticed, they have a pleasant, almost folksy sound, with a female lead singer who has an “aww shucks” type of innocent demeanor. I just think they would translate much better in a smaller place, like perhaps at this show at the tiny Joe’s Pub, which they played as part of CMJ.
All of the amazing photos used in this review were taken by WILL ARNOLD. They are from his flickr account and are used by permission.