I never expect much from opening bands I’ve never heard of and usually my expectations are met. However, this show opened with New York-based experimental/indie group My Brightest Diamond, who put on a great show, especially considering guitarist/singer Shara Worden. Her vocals, combined with her onstage demeanor, reminded me a lot of Chan Marshall from Cat Power. Worden’s airy voice entranced the crowd before The Decemberists came on, and everyone was delighted when she came out again during their set to sing the female part on “Yankee Bayonet.”

The floor was packed. By the time The Decemberists started to play, you would have thought they’d taken the seats out of the auditorium and it was standing room only. Their set was great, lasting a little over an hour and a half and including a wide array of songs from all over the band’s discography. As front man Colin Meloy strummed the first notes of “The Infanta,” the crowd went wild. The atmosphere soon became more low-key, with jolts here and there when audience favorites were played.

I have to say, of all the great material The Decemberists have produced over the years, “16 Military Wives” remains my favorite song. When they began to play it, I was ridiculously psyched, as were most of the concertgoers around me. Meloy had some fun with the audience on this one; grouping us up to sing the chorus in intervallic harmony, effectively producing a new collective musical oeuvre.

The crowd/band interaction throughout the concert was awesome. At one point Meloy even picked up some kid’s cellphone, called one of the contacts and sang into it for the rest of the song.

As far as I can tell, The Decemberists have a pretty intense following here at U of I, and for good reason. This concert probably could have gone to a larger venue like Assembly Hall, but Foellinger provided the ideal environment to enjoy the band. In class it may seem like a big hall, but during a concert it’s a great space where the band is at least semi-close from every vantage point.

After a fair bought of clapping, the band came out for an encore in which they performed “The Mariner’s Revenge.” This was the perfect way to end the concert. Not only did the audience get to participate by making “being eaten by a whale” noises on guitarist Chris Funk’s command, the performance included a freaky looking whale swimming across the stage and devouring the band members. I don’t think you could ask for a better performance – at least not for less than 20 bucks a ticket.

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