Live album presents great collection of The Decemberists’ songs throughout career

Robert Starr

“I just thought I’d mention before we begin: This is not the Keith Urban concert. If you mean to be at a Keith Urban concert, you will be sorely disappointed.”

So said lead singer Colin Meloy at the beginning of The Decemberists’ performance immortalized on the album We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, and he isn’t kidding. The Decemberists haven’t won any fans by appealing to the masses, and that’s why we love them. Their absurd songs about men being swallowed by whales and joint suicides weren’t written for just anybody.

As such, their live shows are presented to the same kind of niche audience. Some may find the band weird or off-putting, but for those who share Meloy’s unusual sense of humor, The Decemberists are a blast to hear live, and they recreate the epic sounds found on their albums.

The album is a full two hours long, piecing together songs recorded during the band’s 2011 tour and covers the full spectrum of The Decemberists’ recording history, from their first EP Five Songs to The King is Dead, which was the most recent album at the time of the concert (they have since released another EP, Long Live the King).

The songs are performed with energy, typically sounding very similar to the album versions and are recorded cleanly — though not quite up to the caliber of a studio recording. What makes We All Raise Our Voices to the Air better than just the collection of songs, however, is Meloy’s banter and stage presence. He revels in having an audience of loyal fans, milking the crowd for all they’re worth, including one moment when he interrupts their applause to inform them that the song isn’t over quite yet.

Still, this is just a live album and won’t offer too many surprises for those who have followed The Decemberists throughout their career. There aren’t any new songs or even any covers to keep things interesting and, unfortunately, there isn’t any video to accompany the CD so that we can actually see the band perform.

These are mild quibbles though. While We All Raise Our Voices to the Air likely won’t earn as many listens as Picaresque, it’s not a disappointment, either. The album offers up a band with a unique voice that’s happy to be performing and knows how to put on a good show. Most listeners should get a real kick out of it.

Unless, of course, they’re expecting Keith Urban.

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: The Decemberists release live album full of favorites