This is a concert experience so excellent it bears repeating.
I always tell people that the Ryman Auditorium is such a great concert venue, I could sing on stage and people would still applaud. There’s not a bad seat in that room, and there’s a certain magic to it. I’m not sure if that’s more because of history or acoustics. Either way, it’s a wonderful place to see a concert.
So I was thrilled months ago when it was announced that the Decemberists would be playing the Ryman in September. I’ve desperately wanted to see them on their current tour, during which they’re playing The Hazards of Love in its entirety, but their I had already been told a Birmingham stop was unlikely this time. I bought tickets immediately, so anxious to make plans that I didn’t even check my seats. It’s the Ryman. How could I go wrong?
An hour later I got curious and pulled up my confirmation email. Front row. Center.
Before the concert began, my friend Monica and I sat in our oh-so-close seats and discussed our expectations for the evening. We admitted we set the bar high: If this wasn’t the best show we attended this year, we would be disappointed. (And we both attend a lot of concerts.) But here was the thing. We were certain we wouldn’t be let down. The Hazards of Love is such an epic album that we knew the night would be memorable.
The Decemberists are apparently a brilliant live band (this was my first time to see them, but I’ve since heard that from multiple people). My heart was racing as they came on stage, and every moment of The Hazards of Love set was just right. When Shara Worden came to the front for her first solo, she instantly lifted the energy of the very excited but very polite crowd. (My mantra is now, “Shara Worden is the very definition of bad ass.”) “The Rake’s Song” was one of the evening’s highlights. I’d been anxious to see the majority of the band behind drums, and it was incredible. I thought the guys in the folding chairs set up before the front rows of pews were going to lose it.
The band took an intermission after The Hazards of Love before a second “greatest hits” set. I turned to Monica and said, “The only way this could get better would be if we were in the center of all the music.”
I’m not as familiar with the Decemberists’ back catalog, but I thoroughly enjoyed the second set. They finally got us on our feet with some gentle admonishing; I think everyone remained seated during the bulk of The Hazards of Love simply out of consideration for the rest of the audience. But now we were on our feet, singing along and cheering as Colin Meloy bantered with us.
I’m not a fan of standing ovations, and frequently plop back in my seat if I don’t think the performance merited one. This time, I was on my feet until the band returned for the encore. The final song of the evening was “Sons and Daughters,” and at the conclusion of the song Meloy prepared to lead us in a sing along. But before we could join in chorus on the song’s final line, he stepped to the front of the stage and said something to the effect of, “You guys. Get up here.”
I looked at Monica, wide-eyed, and took off. About 100 audience members clamored onto the stage. I looked up into the balcony of the Ryman as we sang, “Hear all the bombs fade away.” Sure enough, I was singing and they were still cheering.
And then, everyone on stage spontaneously began jumping up and down. It was such a communal moment; no one started it, but I don’t know that you could have remained planted on the ground unless you had a very large instrument holding you there.
At last, I was inside the music.