Show Review: The Decemberists/Andrew Bird/Band of Horses @ Hollywood Bowl, 7/7/2007

I’ve gotten a ton of google hits already today looking for reviews of this show, so I suppose I had better write one. No photos, because I’m not quite lucky enough to get photo passes for these types of shows at this point. I would have killed for one, though.

We left San Diego around 1PM on Saturday, after Pete was done with lab meeting. The freeway traffic gods were with us on this trip, because we made it to Amoeba Records by 3:30PM. The only really bad traffic we hit was on the 101, but that was only for a short while. We gave ourselves an hour in Amoeba and did pretty well – I found 8 CDs for $60, and I think Pete got 9 or so.

After Amoeba, we were planning on checking in at the hotel and then going to dinner, but after hearing me bitch at a few drivers on the way out of the parking garage, Pete suggested that we get dinner before going to the hotel (I get cranky when my blood sugar is low). The first place we tried to go to, a Cajun grill, apparently doesn’t exist anymore, so we headed to Le Petit Four. It’s a good thing we did, because a) when we got back to my car, we realized my headlights were on (they’re supposed to turn off automatically when the car turns off); and b) we ended up eating dinner in the same restaurant as Ron Jeremy.

My first, and probably all-time best, LA celebrity sighting. On any other trip, this would have overshadowed everything else.

After a good and relatively inexpensive dinner, we headed to the hotel to check in and change before heading to the Hollywood Bowl. Thanks to Rosey for tipping me off about the Bowl allowing people to bring in their own alcohol – we had two bottles of Australian wine that I picked up from Trader Joe’s before heading up to LA. They also allow you to bring in food, but we were quite full from dinner already. My one rant about the venue – there is absolutely no signage indicating how to get to the venue from the 101 North. We got off at the exit that said Hollywood Bowl, and then had no freaking clue where to go, even after circling around for awhile. We ended up being forced to get back on 101 North, get off at a random exit, and then get back on the 101 South. From that direction, the venue is obvious, but yeah, some signs pointing the way from the other direction would have been useful.

Since we spent so much time driving around trying to find the venue, we ended up dropping $13 to park immediately adjacent to the entrance. Since there was an orchestra involved, I was pretty certain that the show was going to start pretty much exactly at the time it was listed to start. And I was right.

We found our seats as Band of Horses were starting their second song. They played a good, albeit short, set. Songs included “The First Song,” “Wicked Gil,” “Monsters,” and of course, “The Funeral.” Sadly, they didn’t play “The Great Salt Lake.” Their sound translated pretty well in that size of venue, although that could just be because I’ve spent a lot of hours with their album Everything All The Time. There wasn’t a trace of the arrogance that Rosey experienced the night before at Cane’s – maybe being in the presence of Andrew Bird and The Decemberists put them in their place a bit. I’m glad that their set wasn’t soured for me by her experience, although I admit I’ll always approach them with a bit of caution from now on.

After a quick set change, Andrew Bird was up. It was just him, a drummer, and a bass guitarist on the stage, but the amount of sound coming from the three of them just absolutely floored me. That man is a master of looping – violin, whistling, guitar, hand claps, everything was looped and he didn’t have a single second of downtime while playing. I was enthralled by how quickly he switched from violin to guitar and back again. Even if his music was mediocre, I would have been quite impressed. But not only can he masterfully play the violin, but he can whistle like no one else I’ve ever heard, and his voice is beautiful, especially when he uses vibrato. And his song writing is excellent. The set mainly focused on songs from his most recent album Armchair Apocrypha, including “Fiery Crash,” “Imitosis”, and “Plasticities.”

He was quite animated while playing, tossing his head around even while looping most notes that he played. He looked like a quintessential musical genius – I can’t really explain it, but it was quite engaging. I would be really interested in seeing him play with the LA Philharmonic backing him at some point – take note, Hollywood Bowl! He definitely enjoys layering a multitude of sounds, so it would be neat to see him do it without all the looping, even though the looping is impressive in and of itself.

At this point I was starting to get ridiculously excited to see The Decemberists (!) backed by the LA Philharmonic (!!). Fortunately, the set change was once again rapid, even though it involved taking down the barrier in front of where the orchestra was set up. Colin Meloy and crew walked onto the stage to deafening applause and yells, and immediately lit into “The Crane Wife 1 and 2,” unfortunately not following it up with “The Crane Wife 3,” which is easily my favorite song off of their new album. The night consisted of songs off of a wide range of albums, which seemed to please the audience, who was more familiar with them than I would have expected. Thank god LA is a town of hipsters. The songs that they played consisted of, roughly in order:

  • The Crane Wife 1 and 2
  • Bagman’s Gambit
  • Infanta
  • We Both Go Down Together
  • Los Angeles, I’m Yours (naturally)
  • The Perfect Crime 2
  • The Tain Pt.I/Pt.II/Pt.III/Pt.IV/Pt.V (awesome)
  • O Valencia (probably my favorite of the evening)
  • Odalisque
  • I Was Meant for the Stage (last song of their regular set and my new favorite Decemberists song)
  • The Chimbley Sweep (encore)
There were probably some others mixed in there, too. Most of the songs were performed with the backing orchestra, although a few, including “The Chimbley Sweep,” were played by only the band.

Hearing all the songs with the benefit of the orchestra was an incredible treat. There were never any moments where the orchestra overpowered the band or the lyrics. Everything was subtle, or as subtle as an orchestra can be. What I mean to say is that every note the orchestra played sounded like it belonged in the song. The arrangements were perfect, and added to the songs in a way that made them sound great, but that will still allow me to appreciate the songs in their natural, more stripped down versions. The night was nothing short of magical, with perfect music, perfect weather, and the perfect vibe from the crowd – something hard to get from a venue that large. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a show at that sort of audience capacity, and I’m happy to say that I was still able to get shivers down my spine from the music. Even though I could barely see the performers from our seats, the intimacy of the music wasn’t lost.

I can’t wait to see the Arcade Fire up there in September.

After the show, we had a bit of a wait in our car that was parked valet-style in our expensive lot. After we got out, I accidentally got on the 101 North, and thus had to turn around again. I hate driving in LA, but even so, I had a great weekend up there.

Sunday morning we got up and headed over to the House of Pies in Los Feliz for breakfast. It’s sort of a tradition of mine from when I used to go up and visit my friend Craig – he lived about a block away from the restaurant. I’ve still never had a piece of pie there, but their breakfasts are good, cheap, and served quickly. A little too quickly, in fact – I completely overestimated the amount of time it would take for us to get food. It was 10AM when we were done, and we had planned on seeing Transformers at the Vista Theater’s first showing of the day…which is at 12:15. We walked around Los Feliz for a bit, stumbling upon the subway entrance, which was when I remembered that Amoeba Records is only two stops away on the subway.

So we headed there for the second time in 24 hours. Pete somehow abstained from making any more purchases, but I managed to find two used compilation CDs – one from Matador, one from Merge – that I ended up buying. As I said, “Now we have some sweet mix CDs to listen to on the way home.” We got back to the theater in time to get in line for tickets to the movie.

Unfortunately, the movie lost a little of its charm the second time around (fortunately, it was only $5 for the ticket), mostly because it’s just too long. Extraneous plot elements could have easily been removed and cut back on the ~ 2.5 hour run time. Pete wasn’t that impressed – he wanted more crazy robot battles. But he was impressed by the theater and understood why I wanted to see a movie there. It’s a really old, single-screen theater covered in Egyptian decor. The best part is that aisles are all wide enough for you to bring an ottoman for your feet. And the person who gets up in the middle of the movie to use the bathroom would still be able to walk around them. The sound is great as well – I wish I could see the new Harry Potter movie up there, but there’s no way I’m making another trip up there next weekend.

The traffic gods were with us on the way home too – Los Feliz to La Jolla (lab stopover) in a little over 1.5 hours. Not a bad way to end the weekend.