When The Decemberists put out The Crane Wife in 2006, they edged just slightly from story-song-pseudo-folkrock into progressive rock territory, most notably with the 12-minute The Island: Come & See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, which is every bit as pretentious and meandering as its name suggests.
But while I eventually came to like that track a lot (along with the rest of the album), what really struck me as interesting even on first listen was the way the album’s title track was split into two, telling the end of the story as the album’s opener and then circling back to tell the beginning near the end. This sounds kind of pointless and cumbersome, but The Crane Wife 3 is a great album opener and although there’s a clear narrative thread between parts 2 and 3, part 2 ends on an emotional note that’s dulled a little by transitioning right into 3.
That said, when I saw that the band had recorded the song in narrative sequence for their live album We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, I was excited to hear it that way for the first time. I’m sure they’ve been playing it that way live for a while, but I’ve never seen them do so. It takes more than 16 minutes to listen to the whole thing, but I promise it’s worth it.