A cranky sounding violin reaches out through the labyrinth of the O2 Academy’s backstage area. We’re sat in a cupboard-like room, interviewing Frances Quinlan from Hop Along – the results of which are due to be published later this week – but the majority of attendees have turned up in support of headline act The Decemberists. With a roar of approval, they avidly welcome their heroes to the stage.
“All Rise!” from 2011’s The King Is Dead begins the night properly. Even from our walled off position, we can tell every audience member knows every word of the song, as the lyrics rattle towards us.
The Portland band have accrued a dedicated following over the years, thanks to decades of hard work. However, it’s interesting to note their fan’s ageing demographic. It’s rare these days that we can say we’re one of the youngest in the room, and that wasn’t the case when we saw Meloy and company play the same venue in 2015. In fact, in 2011, we were one of the oldest – and we’re no Benjamin Button.
There’s a lot of men here too – balding men with bored looking wives – many of whom glower at us as we wade past them having exited the poorly placed backstage door.
This shift in appeal could be due to The Decemberists’ latest material, which errs towards the middle of the road. Having given I’ll Be Your Girl a few spins since its release in March, we already know we won’t hear “The Rake’s Song” this evening. But we’re not as prepared as we like to think; at one point singer Kelly Hogan, who’s joined the band to fill their rotating seventh slot, descends into a solo we can only compare to Meatloaf trying out an electronica version of the spoken word bits in the Rocky Horror soundtrack. We’re all for a 10:30pm curfew but that’s just going too far.
In comparison to the blatant bombast of The Decemberists, Hop Along are straightforward good times. They approach their setlist diplomatically, playing a bunch of songs from their new album Bark Your Head Off, Dog but also remembering classics from Painted Shut and Get Disowned. This includes “Tibetan Pop Stars”, which they surprisingly don’t seem tired of playing. For us, it’s a wicked demonstration of their abilities and a brilliant reward for waiting so long to see them live. However, for those unintroduced to the Philly band’s scattered ways, it can be too much to handle. Some people even look alarmed. Balding Decemberists fans like their rock music on the Meatloaf spectrum, apparently.
Of course, The Decemberists don’t go full Manic Street Preachers on us; how could they? Fan favourites “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, “The Bagman’s Gambit” and “Shankil Butchers” make an appearance and so do tracks from the middle ground, i.e. What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. On top of that Meloy is typically charming; his penchant for between-song talk clearly isn’t going to dry up soon, and arguably that justifies the ticket price alone. But there’s something wrong, and we can’t help but think the fever around the band is finally beginning to wane.