The Decemberists’ We All Raise Our Voices To The Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11)
Though it’s not the band’s first live album (they’ve also released live recordings from Austin City Limits and an iTunes Live Session), it is the first compilation of live tour recordings. And it’s good.
It is good because it is loyal. The Decemberists included songs from almost every album they’ve released—minus their most recent, Long Live The King, which came out after the tour. With selections from Picaresque, The Crane Wife, Hazards of Love, Her Majesty The Decemberists, and even their first EP, Five Songs, the majority of songs come from 2011’s The King Is Dead. This was my only disappointment: the ratio of recent to classic tracks.
That said, I still say that The Decemberists are a loyal band—loyal to their fans and loyal to themselves. They succeed in providing for audiences what most concertgoers expect: the songs we already love performed the way we love them. Colin Meloy, the band’s lyricist, lead vocalist, and English Lit enthusiast like myself, engages in precisely the right amount of crowd banter without casting a shadow over his bandmates. He is funny and clearly loves his fans. This love was apparent before I even opened the album; the title “We All Raise Our Voices To The Air” denotes a powerful unity between the band and its audiences. There is also a cohesion between all the instruments and their players that, in my opinion, comes not only from talent but also from the sense of family that very few bands master. Note specifically the improvised jam in All Arise! Though the electric guitar, keyboard, and violin solos are not included in the studio recording, they create an energetic groove that skillfully transitions to the next track. Accordion player, Jenny Conlee, was battling breast cancer during the tour, and couldn’t make it to several concert dates. But smack in the middle of the sleeve art is a chilling photo of her bald head emerging from behind her Hammond organ. When I saw the band at The Merriweather Post Pavillion on this very tour, they respectfully left out some crucial, yet Conlee-required songs that relied on her keyboard skills. This is what I mean about family: rather than replacing her at the shows she missed, they intentionally left out those tracks (many of which are crowd favorites, such as The Mariner’s Revenge Song), and instead announced that a percent of the merchandise proceeds would be donated to breast cancer research.
Overall, I highly recommend the album to long-time fans. New to The Decemberists? Go out, buy Picaresque, and prepare for the rest of your life.