first things first: i saw the decemberists last night, and even from the balcony it was great. since my crap speakers and i aren't good at picking up orchestration by ear, i always love seeing it. it makes me do ridiculous things like yell out "pedal steel! wow!" it also occurred to me, walking back from BART at a later-than-reasonable hour, that i hadn't been to an, ahem, show-show -- as opposed to a show in a bar or a vfw or a what-have-you -- for quite some time. this was a show-show! with big pre-orchestrated light cues and a fancy backdrop and an ornate proscenium venue, oh my.
top to bottom, it was pretty much fantastic. i'd venture a guess that colin meloy was either heavily produced on the album or suffering from some vocal problems last night, because the high notes were consistently flat and a bit shaky. i shocked myself by being much less bothered by that than i had intended. among other highlights, shankill butchers was awesomely creepy, with the band standing in a small knot bathed by only red light, and audience participation on sixteen military wives (the la, di da, di da, di...etc...somg) was a blast. there was also a gigantic papier-mache whale for the mariner's revenge. favorite thing, more generally: this is a group that knows how to work a vamp -- under (always funny) quasi-monologue; as bridge between songs, whatever. those of us who fell out of showtuneland and into pop (or rock or whatever the decemberists are) fandom can really appreciate that facility.
but the point of this entry was not to review a concert, because i am a better gusher than a reviewer, and not even a sufficiently knowledgeable gusher. (speaking of which: mmm, gushers.) anyway, the point! was to note that listening to "shankill butchers" last night got me thinking about how it (and its sort-of-companion "culling of the fold") referred to a real paramilitary group (also "real" in the sense that the story showcases how thin was the line between The Troubles and straight-up criminality or sadism). and of course contemplating shankill butchers that way got me thinking about other order-conflict-and/or-violence-referencing songs, especially those that refer to a particular dynamic we might be interested in, or to a particular case. "diamonds from sierra leone" comes to mind, but after that i'm sort of stumped, except for a big ol' heap of british and american folk music. i guess there's always "buffalo soldier," but i'm not sure that we really capture the full dynamic of coerced recruitment with "buffalo soldier, dreadlock rasta...woy yoy yoy yoy..."