Mayor Charlie Hales introduced the Decemberists like the football team Portland doesn’t have: “Your Decemberists!” he announced from City Hall’s atrium on Tuesday afternoon.

On the day declared Decemberists Day in Portland, it was a fitting moment. For all the Timbers Army troops and Rip City true believers, Portland is also a city of artists and artisanal baristas, indie rockers and tabletop-gaming nerds, dreamers and book lovers.

“How emblematic the Decemberists are for us as a city,” Mayor Hales said. “We’re brainy… we’re quirky… and we’re serious about good music.”

By the time he took the makeshift stage, crowds filled the atrium’s three stories, looking down at the stage through the discs and strings dangling in the skylight’s pale blue glow. He unveiled a quilt in the band’s honor, each square made by a local business or artist. “Portland being Portland,” the city’s Grand Central Bakery — a “locally owned family of artisan bakeries” — dubbed the quilt on Twitter, and yes — it was.

Portland's quilt for the Decemberists
Portland’s quilt for the Decemberists. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/The Oregonian)

It’s worth remembering that artisan efforts are, in fact, skillful works, not just a punchline in a gentrification thinkpiece or a locally made satire, and the gradual build of the Decemberists’ career has been as much a tribute to hustle as it has whimsy. On Monday, the band spent its afternoon treating Portland fans to a free show and an album signing; rather than spend Decemberists Day luxuriating in their new, septet-sized quilt, surrounded by fantastical animals, they finished their performance and headed for the airport to prepare for Thursday night’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance in Los Angeles.

The band played three songs in the atrium: recent single “Make You Better,” “Eli, the Barrow Boy” and “Sons & Daughters,” with the crowd joining on its closing refrain: “Here all the bombs fade away.”

Afterwards, members mingled and took selfies with fans before jetting off.

“I had no idea what it would be,” guitarist Chris Funk said of the honor as the audience dissipated, joking, “I thought there’d be a key involved.”

On Monday, the band’s day began with a delay, as a free concert at downtown’s Bing Lounge for local radio station KINK FM was pushed back a few hours as Colin Meloy, the band’s roguish frontman, battled with a stomach illness. By 3 p.m., he and the bug had reached détente, and he performed from a stool with the rest of the band: Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, John Moen, Funk and a pair of additions for this year’s touring, Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor, who offered haunting backing vocals on the acoustic “Carolina Low.” In the front row, a young man in cuffed jeans clutched a Meloy “Wildwood” book.

The singer admitted to an ailment, though he was gregarious and crowd-pleasing, catching himself in the video monitors and joking about looking like Cat Stevens. The band, too, spent the set seeming pleased to be playing, Conlee offering a smile during her “Make You Better” solo as she caught Meloy’s eye from across the stage. The band stuck to new material, and Meloy advised buying the band’s new album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World,” in an actual store, along with new releases from Sleater-Kinney and Belle & Sebastian.

He gave fans the chance to take his advice a few minutes later, as Music Millennium filled up with early-birds buying the band’s album and bringing other Decemberists memorabilia for autographs. As local news goes, it was a certified event: a KGW reporter taped a segment from between shelves as prospective LP owners lined up behind her. Before it began, diplomatic talks with the bug having broken down, Meloy had to take a moment of rest upstairs. And then, like a brave chimbley sweep or windswept mariner, he took a seat, uncapped a pen and began signing records.

— David Greenwald

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