The Decemberists' crowning achievement to date The King Is Dead featured on many end of year lists for 2011. Now the Portland band is underlining the importance of that record with a live 20 song double album culled from the final 5 shows of their subsequent tour. It treads a fine line between satisfying fans, while also serving as an introduction to The Decemberists' 6 album back catalogue.
We All Raise Our Voices To The Air (the album takes its name from a line in opening track 'The Infants') is more than just a companion piece to The King Is Dead though. It reveals Colin Meloy's wry sense of humour and balances the melancholy songs with a joyous atmosphere. That's nowhere better illustrated then in the lead up to key track 'We Both Go Down Together'. Meloy starts encouraging the audience to get out of their seats to dance for a 'footloose moment' and then exclaims; "Now that we got you all standing we're going to regale you with a song about a joint suicide". Later in the same song he encourages the crowd to act as a chorus adding a much stronger religious undertone in comparison to its studio incarnation, as he sings "Angel don't take your life tonight".
While never afraid to wear their folk credentials on their sleeve, the Decemberists material has at times sounded fragile and delicate in the studio. On the road the songs seem to grow to fill a room, and the beauty of this live recording is that it captures that enhanced sound without sacrificing the quieter moments. The piano and violin used in 'The Bagman's Gambit' for example seem to rumble around the speakers before giving way to a solitary guitar. Equally 'The Mariner's Revenge Song' sounds much weightier here than a simple sea shanty.
The song selection although heavily indebted to The King Is Dead (7 songs), finds room for material from every record including all three parts of 'The Crane Wife', which clocks in at just over 16 minutes. The rarity of 'Oceanside' from the bands initial EP also adds to the feeling that this is a live retrospective. There also seems to be an ongoing narrative that joins the songs, so while the cuts may be pulled from different shows and records the experience doesn't feel stitched together.
The only unreleased material here is the 'Dracula's Daughter' intro to 'O Valencia' which Meloy refers to as; "The worst song I wrote in my entire life". It's a fun throwaway moment, but it demonstrates that the musicians are all enjoying themselves along with the audience.
As a victory lap before the band considers their next move We All Raise Our Voices To The Air is a fitting summation of the Decemberists' achievements over the last decade. At times funny, moving and more often than not celebratory, it's a nuts and bolts live record that seems to elevate itself above and beyond a greatest hits set. For those listeners unsure of what to expect from We All Raise Our Voices To The Air, it's worth bearing in mind Meloy's opening words on the record "This is not the Keith Urban concert", because if that's what you were looking for, you're definitely not listening to the right album.