“The Hazards of Love,” the Decemberists’ most recent album, completed the Portland, Ore., quintet’s metamorphosis from indie folk rockers to a full-on prog-rock band. Filled with odd time signatures and extreme changes in mood and volume, turning from twinkling, acoustic airs to thunderous heavy metal riffs on a dime, it’s also, in ’70s prog style, a concept album. At Royce Hall Monday night, the band also aligned itself with a contemporary trend, playing the album in full from start to finish, but upped the ante, accompanying their performance with animated films for a production they called “Here Come the Waves: Hazards of Love Visualized.”
The concept album tells the story of star-crossed lovers William and Margaret, who are bedeviled by William’s mother, the Queen, and the caddish Rake. “Here Come the Waves” is the kind of project that could easily collapse under the weight of its pretensions. But it succeeded, brilliantly.
Indeed, “The Hazards of Love” felt even more of a piece onstage than on album. Even with the need to synchronize music to film, the band played with a welcome grit.
With five sets of drums pounding, “The Rake’s Song” was turned into a tribal stomp and, throughout the evening, Chris Funk added a metallic edge with his crunchy yet elegant guitar parts. But the real star of the show was guest vocalist Shara Worden. The My Brightest Diamond singer, a beautifully rough, bluesy shouter, was a revelation, bringing an electric passion to “The Wanting Comes in Waves” and “The Queen’s Rebuke.” In her duets with frontman Colin Meloy, Becky Stark, from local band Lavender Diamond, sang with a sweet innocence that was fitting for Margaret.
Thankfully, no attempt was made to tell the story through the animation, which instead emphasized the bucolic and Victorian sensibilities of “Hazards,” filtered at times through the imagery of ’70s album cover art by Roger Dean (surreal landscapes loomed during “The Drowned”) and Hipgnosis (their recurring black and white pyramids). There were wooden tubes spewing pollen, stars aligned and realigned to create their own constellations, and anthropomorphized animals engaged in a stiff, formal dance. Occasionally, the images were a bit too on the nose, such as the skull falling to the ground while Meloy sang “and you may have my precious bones” in “Annan Water.”
“Hazards” was followed by an hour of earlier material, and it was hard to believe the same band was onstage given the looseness and goofy humor that was absent earlier. Meloy led the aud in a counterpoint backing vocal; they switched instruments during “The Chimbley Sweep” and ended the evening with a wild cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You,” bringing Worden and Stark out again for the vocals.