I had the pleasure of seeing The Decemberists at Radio City last night and I was blown away.
I should start by saying that on more than one occasion someone has mentioned The Decemberists to me. Actually not just someone, but people I know and respect. I can’t remember exactly who it was, but I know I’ve had this low level awareness that a band called The Decemberists was out there and that I wanted to see them or at least download some songs and give them a listen. So when my friend Brian asked me if I wanted to go, I jumped at the chance.
Now, again I feel the need to be fair. I haven’t seen Brian in about 15 years. Brian and I were very close in college. We’d been to each other’s houses and the other’s parents. At one point I drove 4 hours to D.C. just to have dinner with him. We lived together for a while after graduation. Brian married another one of my close friends. It’s hard to believe, but somehow we lost touch and time passed. It happens. Luckily, Facebook got us back in touch. So, after 15 years, Brian could have asked me if I wanted to go watch paint dry or grass grow and I would have said yes. The fact that I would get to see this band of which I was vaguely aware was just a bonus.
I met Brian at Grand Central station and we headed to will call at Radio City to pick up our tickets. On the walk over, we took the time to do some catching up and one way or another it came up that Robyn Hitchcock was opening. At first I thought that perhaps he was headlining and Brian just had it turned around in the phrasing. However, Brian made it pretty clear when he said that it wouldn’t matter if dinner took too long because he wasn’t that excited to see Robyn Hitchcock. I was thinking Robyn Hitchcock… The Soft Boys… The Egyptians… how can you not be excited? However, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I just mentioned that I had seen him in a movie recently and that he did an excellent job, but he looked paunchy.
So, Brian and I went to dinner. We realized that Radio City is in a dead zone in Manhattan, so we walked to 53rd and 3rd and got some Indian food at the Brick Lane Curry House. Neither of us had been there before; it was there, it looked good and it smelled good, so we walked in. It was great. We got lucky.
After dinner, we headed back to Rock Center and tried to find somewhere to have a drink. We tried some chain looking brew pub, but it was jam packed with yuppies trying to get drunk enough to hook up. I suggested we find a hotel bar. We walked a few blocks up and found the Hilton. The bar inside was exactly what we needed. It wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty and nobody was rubbing up against anybody else (except maybe for this one couple way in the back). We got two seats at the bar and ordered some drinks. I ordered a Sapphire martini with extra olives and Brian had a Stella. Again, the evening couldn’t have been better. We caught a small buzz in a relatively quite bar and were able to talk and catch up. What could be better? In fact, when it came time to go, I was a little bummed. I wanted to keep talking and now we were going to stand with several thousand people listening to music that would probably be loud enough to make our ears bleed.
When we got to the theater, our seats were on the 3rd Mezzanine. It seemed like the stairs would never end. We finally got to the top, got a couple of beers and went off to find our seats. The seats actually weren’t all that bad. Yeah, we were up in the air, but we were in the second row of the top tier and we had an unobstructed view.
We got there near the end of Robyn Hitchcock’s set. I was kind of disappointed that we missed it, but I was still excited to see him and I took a few pictures with my cell phone and posted them on Facebook like some infatuated fanboy. Robyn mentioned that the last song was the theme song from Rachel Getting Married. I whispered to Brian that it was the movie I had talked about earlier and that it was an excellent movie. The song came to an end and that was it for Robyn Hitchcock. Oh well.
After about a half an hour of waiting all of a sudden there’s something happening on stage. People are moving around the stage and music is building. It’s just sort of noise at first and people are still wandering around, but it keeps building and building and then it’s everywhere. I’m completely sucked in. Some teenage girls are standing in the aisle next to me and they’re swooning. I want to laugh at them, but I can’t.
It’s hard to describe the music. Really, you have to hear it to believe it, but it’s like Shakespeare and Homer as performed by a mashup of Yes and The Waterboys. But it’s also something else entirely. It swirls around me and I’m pretty sure I’m tripping, but I’ve only had a martini and a beer. My friend Carl sometimes talks about seeing Genesis perform The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway live and how profound it was. I’m reminded of that and figure that it must have been just like this. Everyone is moving with the music. I’m sure I can feel the whole mezzanine bouncing. They play the entire album The Hazards of Love. And then it’s over.
The band takes a break and then comes back to play some old songs as if to convince me of their talent, but there’s no need. I’m hooked. (I’ve already purchased the album and an older one and I’ve listened to The Hazards of Love all the way through twice).
The rest of the night was typical. A walk to Grand Central, another beer and a dash to the train. I say goodbye to Brian. I can’t wait to see him again, but I’m still buzzed from the music and from the alcohol. I’ll never forget this night. Brian disappears into the train. Suddenly I’m aware of the 15 years it’s been since I’ve last seen him and I miss him. I hope it doesn’t take another 15 years.
I find my way to my train and back home to my family, the only place where I can feel better than I do right now.