NEW YORK, NY—Love hasn’t changed much since the 16th century. At least that’s what The Decemberists showed the crowd when they performed their new album, The Hazards Of Love, in its entirety at Radio City Music Hall on June 10.
The rock opera, originally intended to be a musical, is the amalgam of lead singer Colin Meloy’s long fascination with British folk revival music and his passion for classic metal. In it, Meloy carefully pieces various motifs together from old folk music to create a narrative that revolves around 16th century archetypal characters. His Portland-based band, which includes guitarist Chris Funk, organist Jenny Conlee, bassist Nate Query, and drummer John Moen, meticulously brought that story to life during the show’s first half.
The band’s non-stop set examined love from spring to offspring through the eyes of characters like Margaret, performed by guest vocalist Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, her lover William, a forest queen brought to life by guest vocalist Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and a rake, among others. The tenderness and treachery surrounding the love-afflicted characters was clearly based in another time, but their emotional struggles were easily modern. And the music masterfully followed each character’s arc, heightening their disparate views.
There were many highlights during the evening, but one song that captured the essence of love’s strangling grip best was “The Hazards Of Love 2 (Wager All).” Crescendos rose with promise and dipped with disappointment. And lyrics like “take my hand to feel the pull of quicksand” beautifully expressed the dueling nature of attraction.
During the show’s second half The Decemberists raced against Radio City’s curfew, packing in as many songs from previous albums as possible, including “Crane Wife 3,” “July July,” “Billy Liar,” “Sleepless,” and “O’ Valencia,” along with an exciting cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You,” performed with Worton and Star.
The Decemberists encored with REM’s “Begin The Begin,” inviting opening act Pete Buck to join, and ended with “Sons & Daughters,” where Meloy and eager fans sang the chorus, “hear all the bombs fade away.” As the show dissolved, it became apparent that The Decemberists had artfully taken us back in time and returned us for a more hopeful future.