ACL 2009 Day Two: The Decemberists, Dapper and a Little Dangerous

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Photo by Mark C. Austin
If there's one band Rocks Off didn't envy during Saturday's ACL downpour - seriously, Zilker Park smells like a stable today, moreso because the staff just finished seeding the mud-splattered grounds with hay - it was the Decemberists. The Portland collective closed out Saturday on the Dell stage clad in full-on church attire - three-piece suits for the men; long, flowing gowns of both black and white for the women. Just the kind of attire you want to be caught in at a muddy music festival - and Rocks Off lucked into an artist's wristband this year, and that quadrant of Zilker may be the muddiest of all.

Before the best stage backdrop we've seen so far at ACL - tendrils of nylon lit in an eldritch light green, resembling a ghostly medieval forest - the Decemberists played this year's ambitious, anachronistic (to put it mildly) folk-rock opera The Hazards of Love straight through Saturday night. Rocks Off wasn't sure how much of the storyline (a florid tale of love denied and discovered), but we did see people in the crowd singing along.

Strumming furiously, by turns mystical and heavy, the band alternated ponderous, fuzzy power chords with ethereal, steel-heavy, countryish ballads like the well-dressed offspring of Jethro Tull and the Arcade Fire (the only other band we've ever seen at ACL dressed like they're going to a, well, funeral). The heavier passages completely shattered the acoustic calm, as the lady in the white gown vocalized like Enya, steadily building towards a grandiose climax and equally pastoral denouement. It was lilting and sinister, an island of elegance in a morass of mud and exhaustion.

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