It is true that more often than not, live performance albums don't measure up to studio recordings—production values may be limited, there are no retakes for performance flaws, comic banter, and planned or ad lib may not work after the first couple of hearings (where is it written that musicians must be comedians). Still, there is something special about a great live performance, an electric energy that a band gets standing up before an enthusiastic crowd of screaming and dancing fans that can more than make up for any problems.
The newly released double album by The Decemberists manages to capture all the energy of a live concert while obviating at least some of the problems that might have arisen by featuring performances recorded at a variety of concerts from their 2011 tour in support of their most recent and Grammy-nominated studio album, The King is Dead. We All Raise Our Voices to the Air (Live Songs 04.11–08.11) draws from a dozen different shows in venues from Nashville and Seattle to the band's Portland, Oregon base. And if some of Colin Meloy's patter, mildly funny the first few times, gets old with repetition—I mean, how many times do you want to hear that this isn't a Keith Urban concert?—the crowd energizes the band with its joy in the music. Clearly, everyone—including the audience and band members—is having a great time, and the recordings capture that joy.
While the album's 20 tracks reach back for songs from the band's six albums over the past 10 years, it is not surprising that the lion's share, seven tracks, including the massive hit "Down by the Water," is taken from the best-selling The King is Dead record. A choice selection from the album, "Calamity Song," and "Rise to Me" are on the first disc, and the second disc has "All Arise," "Rox in the Box," "June Hymn," and "This is Why We Fight."