The Decemberists (Live in Concert)

24 January 2004

I leave work at noon and swing by the high school to see Mac. There’s raucous laughter pouring from his room. Inside, Mac and Joe Ruwitch and Matt Sprague and three other teachers are seated around a table, eating lunch and playing dominoes. They’re loud and having fun. Mac makes a copy of the photography class handout for me, and we chat for a bit.

I head to the barber shop. Howard, the shop owner, is cutting Neal Martin’s hair. Neal’s family owns Martin’s Town and Country Furniture, which is just down the road from Custom Box Service. He and I were in the same class. Howard and Neal are talking about San Francisco. When his haircut’s finished, I take my place in the chair while Neal and I spend ten or fifteen minutes reminiscing about high school, discussing classmates seen and unseen. I mention that I’m having dinner with Paul Carlile and Tom Stewart tonight. After he’s gone, I regret not having asked him to join us.

When Paul arrives, we drive to Portland in the rainy dusk, oblivious to the stop-and-go traffic. We’re talking. We have time before dinner, so we stop at Powell’s where I pick up the next book group book. Paul bumps into a woman he knows and begins to chat with her while I continue to browse. When I return to them, he introduces me: “This is my friend, J.D.”

I wait for him to introduce her, but he seems to have forgotten, so I say, “And this is…”

“Exactly,” Paul says. But no more.

I shake the woman’s hand and say, “Nice to meet you, Exactly.” I figure that Paul’s just being goofy.

The conversation ends abruptly. The woman is walking in the same direction that we need to go, so I figure we’ll just walk with her, but she quickens her pace, leaving us behind. I am puzzled.

“Oh my god,” Paul says. “I can’t believe you didn’t pick up on my hint. I once dated her for a couple of weeks, but I just couldn’t remember her name. Oh god.”

I feel bad, but not nearly as bad as Paul feels!

We drive to the India Grill. The ten minute drive takes half an hour in rush hour traffic. While we wait for Tom, we share an appetizer of beef samosas and assorted pieces of chicken and lamb. It’s delicious, as usual.

Tom arrives. I haven’t seen him in several years. He used to be a skinny kid, but he’s filled out some now. His voice is much deeper than I remember. He has the same cheerful good-nature and fun personality as always, though. He talks about being married, about having a two-year-old son (Quinn), and a fifteen-year-old stepson. He talks about his new job. The conversation turns to friends from high school and what they’re doing now. Paul and Tom observe that in high school, Tom had the widest social circle of the three of us, and I had the smallest, but that now the roles seem to have been reversed. “I like to keep contact with people,” I say. And I do. It’s a nice chat and good food.

After dinner, we drive the ten blocks to Nocturnal. There’s already a line of young hipsters standing in the rain: sideburns, thick-framed glasses, thrift-store clothing. We feel old. We should have brought an umbrella. The doors open and the line move a little, but then it just stops. After several minutes in the cold rain, Paul figures out that they’re only letting in those over 21, so we’re able to get inside where it’s warm and dry. We head downstairs to the hip little bar where we stand in the corner, drinking beer and wine.

We stand in the back corner, next to a door marked “employees only”, and we continue to talk about old friends: Jonathan McDowell, Mitch Sherrard, David Sumpter, Matt English, Clint Latimer, Danny Mala, etc. We have to step aside to let a guy into the closet. “What are you, the janitor?” asks Paul.

The guy sighs, “Yeah. I’m the janitor.” But when he comes out again later, he’s drinking a beer.

The opening act starts, so we head upstairs to an intimate room no bigger than a grade school cafeteria. Corrina Repp has a strong voice, but I’m unimpressed by her spare guitar work. Paul and Tom head back downstairs midway through her set. We’ve been standing for two hours, and their legs are tired. Mine are tired, too, but I’d like to hear Repp’s act. I think she’d sound great in a band, but on her own she sounds a little lost. Her songs are all lethargic.

Tom has never heard The Decemberists; Paul only heard a few songs on the our drive to Portland; I’ve only been listening to them for a week. But from the opening of their first song, “Shanty for the Arethusa”, we’re hooked.

The Decemberists feature Colin Meloy — in a t-shirt which reads “Dorothy is Running” — on vocals and guitar; Chris Funk (the guy we thought was the janitor) on lead guitar (often with a country twang); Jesse Emerson on upright bass (which sounds awesome); Jenny Conlee on accordion (and occasional keyboards); and Rachel Blumberg on drums (with occasional vocals). It’s an eclectic mix of instruments, but the group is so tightly orchestrated that they’re able to produce a powerful, unified — and unique — sound. Meloy’s voice is distinctive, but in a good way.

A lot of The Decemberists’ charm is found in their clever lyrics. Fortunately, the lyrics are fairly recognizable during their performance. In fact, the songs sound much the same as they did on record, but not enough for me to feel cheated. Too, the members of the band branch off into improvisation on many of the songs, providing an added bonus to those familiar with their work.

The band gives a great performance, well worth the $8 we each spent to see the show. I’m glad to have gone.

When we get home, Paul and I spend some time at the computer, listening to songs by The Decemberists, and looking up information about the group.

Later, as I walk through the house, turning off the lights. I pass Paul, who is already spread out on the couch. “J.D.,” he says.

“What, Paul?”

“I remember now: Ione. Her name is Ione.”

Comments

On 25 January 2004 (07:46 AM),
Amy Jo said:

I like this entry very much. The Powell’s scene evokes a uniquely Portland experience for me–unexpectantly running into someone I known from a different time in my life.

On 25 January 2004 (08:43 AM),
Tammy said:

I like this entry too. It’s much more people friendly than those geeky ones. :)

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