Published Sep 17, 2018Two years after the Decemberists played a co-headlining slot at Ottawa's Bluesfest, and five years since the band's frontman, Colin Meloy, appeared on the second stage of their Folk Festival, the Portland band have finally graduated to level of headliner, closing off the final night of the five-day CityFolk Festival.
Joined by Chicago-bred solo artists Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor on backing vocals, the five members of the Decemberists entered the stage wearing corresponding embroidered black military garb that found Meloy remarking that he was overdressed for the "hot Canadian summer weather."
Opening with "Severed," the #1 Billboard Adult Alternative Chart single seemed set the mood for the entire evening, as the band would move on to tracks like "Make You Better" (their other AA chart topper) alongside a series of tempered, mid-tempo songs like "The Island," "Cutting Stone" and "Lake Song." Midway through their set, Meloy addressed the tepid audience, thanking them for making it through the evening's "mellow trough" and inviting them to sit through some "dad rock."
As multi-instrumentalist Jenny Conlee, guitarist Chris Funk and the two backup singers grabbed sticks and portable drums to simultaneously hammer out the rhythm to 2009's "The Rake's Song," the Decemberists upped the on-stage energy, giving the already epic number a monolithic sound. Conlee, who proved to be the most dynamic and watchable stage performer of the evening, gave the crowd a dose of tasteful accordion mashing while assisting the band on the buoyant "Rox in the Box" and "Down by the Water" from their country-fied 2011 LP, The King is Dead.
With a final attempt to lift the vitality of the crowd, the seven-piece launched in to "We All Die Young," as Meloy involved the audience in a rousing call-and-response. Moving into thorny version of the theatrical I'll Be Your Girl album cut, "Rusalka, Rusalka," which transitions into the song's soring second suite, "Wild Rushes," Meloy then chose to end the set off with the album's quietist and most unobtrusive track, "Sons & Daughters," which he tried to rescue with yet another call-and-response, imploring the audience to sing the song's closing refrain of "Hear all the bombs fade away."
Ending the show after just 75 minutes and without an encore, Meloy thanked the "kind and benevolent" Ottawa crowd by leaving them with a kind and benevolent set that seemed more like an obligation than a celebration of their newly earned headliner status.