By Tyler Hersko
Forbidden love. A murderer-turned-rapist. A spiteful queen. An omen of death.
“The Hazards of Love” is one of the most ambitious concept albums in recent memory. Originally released by indie rockers The Decemberists in 2009, “The Hazards of Love” is a Shakespearean-inspired rock opera detailing the tragic lives of two star-crossed lovers.
“Romeo and Juliet” comparisons are inevitable, but the tale manages to circumvent the pitfalls of blatant unoriginality to create a thoroughly captivating and emotional tale. Like many concept albums, “The Hazards of Love” resonated strongly with particular sects of the music community.
For a small group of Reno musicians, “The Hazards of Love” was more than a just record — it was a psychological adventure that demanded visual interpretation.
When local musician Jill Marlene first heard the record, she was moved to tears.
“By the third song in I had chills,” Marlene said. “By the end of it I’m bawling, I’m pulling over on the side of the road…I said ‘we have to stage this.’”
The result was a 2010 tribute show. Marlene, who produced and directed the event, assembled a cast of musicians, actors and actresses to perform the album in its entirety. The hybrid concert/play enjoyed an enthusiastic reception and a wide turnout.
According to assistant show director Gabe Hilton, despite frequent requests for the show’s return, the group was unable to perform the show for several years due to a variety of academic, social and professional obligations. The band came together again in October, when Marlene decided to organize several February shows.
“We were busy,” Hilton said. “We’ve been wanting to do it again ever since but haven’t really had the chance to until now…We only had a few months to put it together, but it’s a love story, so it’s great for Valentines day.”
After more than a three-year hiatus, “The Hazards of Love” tribute show will be returning to Reno for a string of performances on Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 14, at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor.
Hilton acknowledged that while the cast and crew were quite supportive, there are a number of difficulties inherent to performing an hour-long rock opera with a singular narrative.
“We’ve definitely had our challenges, but its really fun,” Hilton said. “[The album] doesn’t stop. There’s no point where there’s no music and no dancing. It begins and ends, and you practically listen to it as if it’s one song. The transitions between songs are difficult.”
The music and theatrics are supplemented by a bevy of nature-inspired stage props and costumes, all of which were handcrafted by the shows’ volunteers. Marlene expressed appreciation for the passion of the event’s volunteers.
“We do this on a shoestring,” Marlene said. “I have no budget. This is all volunteers…All of the materials, everything is coming out of ticket sales. That’s it. We’ve done it all with our creativity and with the talent of the people that are there. And they are amazing.”
Hilton noted that while the show’s musicians were a relatively tight-knit group, they were forced to nearly start from scratch looking for new performers and dancers.
While several of the missing roles were filled via the band’s contacts in Reno’s artistic and musical communities, Marlene argued that one doesn’t have to “know certain people” in Reno in order to practice his or her craft in the local art scene.
Hilton echoed Marlene’s belief in the openness of Reno’s artistic community, and agreed that putting on involved events was a deceptively simple process in such an involved culture.
“It’s not exclusive,” Hilton said. “There’s very much the vibe in Reno that if you want to do something like this, it’s not really that difficult to find the resources.”