A fair maiden riding on horseback finds a wounded fawn in the forest. Then the earth trembles, and a metamorphosis occurs. The fawn changes form and becomes a man. The man (William) makes love to the maiden (Margaret) on the floor of the forest. A child is conceived.
That's just the opening chapter of the Decemberists' new CD (better described as a musical novel), The Hazards of Love. Shaped by the literary songwriting orientation of indie rock icon Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' sonic narrative stands as this generation's answer to the great rock operas of the Who.
The Decemberists have been performing The Hazards of Love from start to finish at many recent concerts. The band comes to Overture Hall on Aug. 5.
Melodramatic musical arrangements underscore Hazards' emotionally intense plot, which is akin to a Shakespeare tragedy. Explosive electric guitar chords support the angry verses sung by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond on "The Wanting Comes in Waves." That track has Worden playing the part of William's adoptive and possessive queen mother.
There's only one sure way to reap the full experience of Wednesday night's show: Be prepared not just to listen to the music. Get ready to hear a story.
You might want to study in advance.
The demands of the Queen are first on the syllabus. She wants complete control over William, whom she saved from the river and adopted when he was a boy. On "The Wanting Comes in Waves," she grants him a single night with Margaret in exchange for a lifetime of subservience to her.
Next is a chapter on the Rake. He's a villain who plots to abduct Margaret and to have his way with her.
There's Annan Water, the deep river William must cross to save Margaret from the Rake. Knowing he can't do it, William makes a deal with the river: Let me cross and "you may have my precious bones on my return."
Can William save Margaret? Will Annan Water take William's life? The Decemberists prove rock music really can be this lyrically suspenseful.
The Decemberists, Overture Hall, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 7:30 pm