We All Go Down Together
The Decemberists' Live Triumph

I am, once again, pretty sick.

I’ve been coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose for days now, and I feel like I’m almost out of the woods. But I also feel like I need to get a good 12 hours’ sleep to really cement my recovery. So this one will probably be pretty short. Apologies, I’ll make it up to you next week.

I’ve also got something weighing pretty heavily on my mind. Late last week, one of my father’s best friends, a truly terrific guy named David Morrison, succumbed to cancer. I have so many good memories of David from my childhood – he was always the funniest guy in the room, but never mean about it. He’d always come up with that perfect quip that would set everyone laughing. If I’d paid closer attention to him as a kid, I probably would have turned out a lot more likeable.

I last saw David at my sister’s wedding last May, and he looked good. He had been battling the disease for some time, but appeared to be on an upswing. But things took a turn for the worse over the last couple of weeks, and on Saturday morning, I got a text from my mother informing me that he’d passed on.

I had a discussion with her about it, and she opined that it’s always the best people who contract and die from cancer. Now, last week, I also did a couple of stories about a local family who lost a four-year-old girl to brain cancer, and two of my best friends’ fathers have also succumbed to the disease, so it’s tempting to agree with her. But that’s not the way it works at all. If there were some sense to it, even twisted, backwards sense, I’d feel better. But there isn’t.

In fact, some of the worst people I’ve ever known have also died from cancer. That’s horrible to say, but it’s true. Cancer doesn’t care who it takes. It’s completely, utterly, capriciously random. Every day we’re told a new way to prevent cancer, and often the new method contradicts an older one. You can do everything right, health-wise, and still be struck down. You can smoke three packs of cigarettes a day for 50 years and emerge unscathed. There’s no rhyme or reason.

And I’m reminded again of the late, great Warren Zevon, and his final piece of advice before dying of cancer himself: “Enjoy every sandwich.” As I get older, that resonates even more. Enjoy every day of your life. Even the smallest pleasures, hold on to them. Wring every drop from them. You never know when it could come crashing down.

Rest in peace, David. If there’s a better place, I hope you’re there.

* * * * *

I know I mentioned I’d be tackling a slew of live records this time, but I only have it in me to review one of them. For the record, though, the others I was set to feature were Chris Cornell’s Songbook, Rhett Miller’s The Interpreter, and the Cure’s Bestival Live 2011. All of them are holdovers from last year, and all of them are worth hearing. I’m especially pleased with Rhett Miller’s, which finds him taking on a bunch of interesting covers, in a relaxed atmosphere at Largo in Los Angeles.

But this is a new music column, and you don’t come here to read my thoughts on last year’s stuff. You want to know what’s worth buying in the record store this week. Well, let me tell you, the first full-length live album from the Decemberists is most definitely worth your cash.

It’s called We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, it was recorded during last year’s tour, and listening to it, you’ll wonder why the hell Meloy’s merry band hasn’t compiled one of these live documents before. Over two hours, the band touches every phase of its decade-plus career, from the first song on their debut EP Five Songs to seven selections from their latest (and most streamlined) album The King is Dead. Along the way, they prove what a singular band they’ve always been – in fact, if you’re looking for a capsule summary of just what all the fuss is about, you can hardly do better than this.

The Decemberists play sprightly pop influenced by centuries of folk music from all over the world. The album kicks off with “The Infanta,” which begins with Colin Meloy strumming and singing, but ends in a cacophony of drums, guitars and horns. As enthralling as the Decemberists are on record, here the energy just crackles, and I sort of wish they’d kept the momentum going instead of launching into a couple of middling tunes from King. (I’ve come around on that record, but it still strikes me as a slight effort.)

Ah, but things certainly pick up with the wonderful “Bagman’s Gambit,” and that forward motion stays with the band through the end of the first disc. “Down By the Water” is terrific, as is golden oldie “Leslie Ann Levine” and the one selection from prog opus The Hazards of Love, “The Rake’s Song.” But the gem is a full performance of “The Crane Wife” – all three parts, over 16 minutes. It’s simply magnificent, and while I wish they’d segued right into the 12 minutes of “The Island,” I guess you can’t have everything.

The second disc’s highlights include a take on “Billy Liar,” from their second album Her Majesty the Decemberists, and a reading of “Dracula’s Daughter,” which Meloy calls “the worst song I’ve ever written.” That slams into “O Valencia,” which gets the second-loudest reaction from the crowd. The loudest, of course, is reserved for “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a staple of Decemberists shows. If you’ve never heard this, it’s a blood-soaked sea shanty, and on stage it can last up to a quarter of an hour. (It’s 12 minutes here.) It’s simply amazing, and the closing rendition of “I Was Meant for the Stage” can only be a comedown after that.

Some bands suck live. This is just a fact. You hear the studio records, then see a concert clip, and you can hardly believe it’s the same group of musicians. Happily, the Decemberists have never been one of those bands – in fact, they shine in a live setting. I’ve only seen them once, to experience The Hazards of Love on stage, but based on how much I enjoyed We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, I’m already planning to see them again the next time they come my way.

* * * * *

OK, that’s all. Well, three more things.

Pre-ordering is underway for the new Choir album, The Loudest Sound Ever Heard, which is out on April 10. Not trying to sway you one way or another, just putting the information out there. Go here.

I will try to sway you to do this, though. The local artists compilation I contributed to last year, Made in Aurora Vol. 1, is up for an Independent Music Award. This is kind of a big deal – I mean, look at the panel of judges. You get a vote too, and I’d very much appreciate it if you took a second and cast it for Made in Aurora. Go to this link. And thank you. (For more info on the project, go here.)

One last thing. I discovered BT’s new band, All Hail the Silence, last Friday, and I’ve been mainlining the sole released track, “Looking Glass,” ever since. As BT himself says, this is straight out of 1983, and it’s marvelous. Check it out here.

All right, heading to bed. I’m hoping to tackle the Shins next week, as well as a few others. No need to thank me. Action is my reward. Leave a comment on my blog at tm3am.blogspot.com. Follow my infrequent twitterings at www.twitter.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.