Here’s what you need to know about The Decemberists playing The Hazards of Love in its entirety on their current tour: on prog-rock bulletin boards, folks are comparing this show to Genesis performing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in the 1970s.

Hazards of Love sounds awfully proggy on record, and live it’s got all the telltale signs: a theatrical presentation (including costumes of sorts), a ridiculously fantastical concept/storyline, lots of Hammond organ and other keys, a gratuitously long children’s choir section… everything to make the latent prog fan inside you start drooling. And the thing is, it works. Before last night I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the album, but its highlights are exhilirating in the live setting, especially those featuring the powerhouse vocals of My Brightest Diamond‘s Shara Worden. Set the absurd concept aside and the music stands on its own remarkably well.

More photos and thoughts after the jump. Full gallery here.

Colin Meloy and company were on last night, blazing through the Hazards of Love material and then playing a short second set that drew at least one song from each of the band’s full-length albums, plus a couple surprises (including a cover of Heart‘s “Crazy On You” that was basically an excuse for the band’s two guest female vocalists to wail). The selection tended to the mellow—for instance “Red Right Ankle,” “Engine Driver,” and the gorgeous, moving encore of “Sons and Daughters.” For this last, Meloy mentioned that the band had made a side trip to tour the White House, and in the spirit of what they felt during that visit, he had the audience join him for the song’s ecstatic refrain, “Hear all the bombs fade away.” It was probably the only song more perfect for an encore closer than “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.”

I saw the Decemberists’ show in Richmond last Friday as well, and came away from that one less than satisfied – the band fucked around too much, making jokes to the point that it killed the flow of the concert and hurt the actual performances of the songs. At Merriweather, thanks to a strict time limit on their set, the band were forced to tighten things up a bit, which had a hugely positive effect on their show. After all, prog-rock might revel in its excess, but it’s always best with at least a hint of moderation.

Robyn Hitchcock and Andrew Bird opened. Merriweather isn’t the easiest place to get to from D.C., so I missed Hitchcock’s set, but Bird’s performance was predictably great and photos of it are included in the full gallery. A teaser: