The Decemberists released their eighth album, I’ll Be Your Girl, last month, and it saw the band moving in a notably different direction than their previous releases. With much more dominant synth parts featured in a number of the songs, it frequently sounds more inspired by New Order than by the prog rock and folk music influences of their earlier work. Perhaps the change is a direct reaction to coming off of last year’s Offa Rex, a collaboration with Olivia Chaney that saw them delving deep into the English folk rock stylings of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Regardless of the reasons for the shift in direction, the album has met with generally favorable reviews, and on Saturday night the group brought their tour for it to their Washington, DC fans at The Anthem.
The show, like the album, opened with the Morrissey-esque sentiments of “Once in My Life,” frontman Colin Meloy repeatedly asking the question “For just once in my life, could just something go right?” Fortunately, he didn’t spend too long wrapped in that angst before moving on to “Your Ghost,” another new song which treads on the much more familiar Decemberists territories of hauntings and hidden places. In all, the band ended up playing nearly the entire new album, mixing in occasional songs from past releases going as far back as 2003’s Her Majesty the Decemberists with “Red Right Ankle” all the way to 2015’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World with “Make You Better.” Even Offa Rex got a brief nod when a verse from “The Blacksmith” was included midway through “Rox in the Box” (from 2011’s The King is Dead), with Meloy joking afterward that the band needed to get all of their mining songs in at once. The first encore included “Ben Franklin’s Song,” an unused song from the musical Hamilton written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and released in collaboration with the band as part of his “Hamildrops” outtakes series.
The strongest part of the entire night, though, came in the second encore. Through most of the show, Meloy had spent his time in a bright spotlight while the other band members were largely in shadow. For “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (from 2005’s Picaresque), though, the entire band came forward and performed together at the front of the stage. It was the most authentically Decemberists-feeling moment of the evening.
Denver indie-pop duo Tennis opened the show, playing a set drawn largely from their two 2017 releases, the album Yours Conditionally and the followup EP We Can Die Happy.