Anyone lucky enough to have seen or heard The Decemberists premiere The Hazards Of Love at this year’s SXSW festival would have noticed an air of trepidation in the atmosphere.
The unveiling of such bold new material, a concept album of sorts, was an artistic gambit for the band, but luckily one that paid off handsomely. Having lived with The Hazards Of Love for the best part of a year, Colin Meloy and co arrived in London for two dates and gave the Kentish Town crowd a remarkably assured performance of their spine-tingling opus, safe in the knowledge that they have created one of the best albums of 2009.
The new material was bound to dominate a standard set, so the band wisely packed two full-length sets into the night. First, The Hazards of Love was performed in all its glory. Despite being in a sweaty gig venue there were more than a few times at which the album’s most majestic moments brought about goosebumps.
Many fans would have gone home after this quite satisfied, but The Decemberists were generous enough to return half an hour later for a ‘best of’ set, played with such energy that those arriving late would have had no idea that the band had already played a full set earlier.
Particular reference was made to their last UK gig, an all-seater at Royal Festival Hall two years ago. Surveying the standing masses of the Forum, Meloy remarked, “you’ve all got taller – and more rowdy”. He capitalised on this with the choice of material, made up of some of the more boisterous songs from their canon. The sharp, but welcome contrasts between both sets was highlighted by the inclusion of such rousing numbers as The Sporting Life and Oh Valencia to get the crowd dancing and singing along.
Such was the warmly enjoyable atmosphere that, at one stage, Meloy passed his guitar round the front row of the audience to get them to join in, and persuaded everybody to kneel on the floor and rise as one to herald a triumphant blast of song. And as if we hadn’t been spoilt enough, the encore provided us with a glimpse of a new track and concluded with a rousing sing-a-long to The Crane Wife’s Sons And Daughters.
This great gig confirmed The Decemberists as brilliant songwriters and performers. One wonders if performing The Hazards Of Love might eventually become a burden on future tours but, given the energy of this evening, that particular hazard is surely a long way off.