Band Opening for Obama in Oregon Frequently Uses Soviet Anthem

The Decemberists, the Indie rock band that opened for Barack Obama's Portland, Oregon rally on Sunday that drew an estimated 75,000, often opens its own shows with the National Anthem of the now-defunct Soviet Union, according to, the music Web site and many others.

In its entry on The Decemberists, Wikipedia observes:

“The band's use of the National Anthem of the Soviet Union as an introduction at many concerts has sparked controversy as it is seen by some as an endorsement of the repressive Soviet system. The name Decembrist refers to an 1825 revolt over the Imperial Russian succession, and is not related to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.”

There is no indication as yet whether the band opened the Obama rally with the Soviet anthem.

Here are the lyrics, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Unbreakable Union of freeborn Republics,
Great Russia has welded forever to stand.
Created in struggle by will of the people,
United and mighty, our Soviet land!

CHORUS: Sing to the Fatherland, home of the free, Bulwark of peoples in brotherhood strong. O Party of Lenin, the strength of the people, To Communism's triumph lead us on!

Through tempests the sunrays of freedom have cheered us,
Along the new path where great Lenin did lead.
To a righteous cause he raised up the peoples,
Inspired them to labour and valourous deed.


In the victory of Communism's deathless ideal,
We see the future of our dear land.
And to her fluttering scarlet banner,
Selflessly true we always shall stand!”

From the networks to the New York Times, the media hyped Obama's Portland rally, comparing him to a rock star.

Unmentioned in national reporting was the fact that Obama was preceded by a rare, 45-minute free concert by The Decemberists. The band, which is very big in Portland, has drawn rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine, which gave their 2005 album Picaresque four and a half stars (out of five) and another four and a half stars for 2007's The Crane Wife.  While it is safe to assume that most people came out for the Obama rally, the media should have reported the presence of one of the city's biggest entertainment draws. 

Here's how the local paper The Oregonian, which estimated the crowd at 72,000,  reported the rally:

“Obama was the biggest star at Sunday's gathering -- though a popular Portland band, The Decemberists, provided the warmup act. With blue skies and temperatures in the 80s, many in the crowd said WaterfrontPark was simply the place to be.”

The New York Times, which ran a color photo of the crowd, estimated the throng at 75,000, noting that it was “the largest crowd of his campaign so far.” There was no mention of The Decemberists, and the Times described the weather as “an unseasonably hot day.”

Indie rock Websites were abuzz with news of the impending concert, which was also announced on the Obama campaign's Website.

Here's how Indie rock Website Pitchfork primed the pump for the concert/rally:

“Indie rock's #1 candidate crush Barack Obama is sittin' quite a bit prettier than he was a few weeks ago when the Arcade Fire and Bruce Springsteen went to bat for him, but the dashing junior Senator hasn't quite clinched the Democratic party nomination yet. Next up on the primary agenda are Oregon and Kentucky, whose voters hit the polls Tuesday, May 20. Should Obama win a heaping majority of the delegates up for grabs that day, he'll be within inches of securing the hotly-contested nom.

And look who's arrived to give Obama the extra push he needs to get on the ballot in November. Why, it's none other than those kings and queens of the month after, the Decemberists!”

Here's the subsequent report from Pitchfork:

“By land and by sea, they came to see the great man speak. An estimated 75,000 in all turned out to see presidential hopeful Barack Obama at Portland's Waterfront Park yesterday afternoon-- a record crowd for Obama's own campaign, according to The New York Times, and a record crowd for Oregon political events, according to The Oregonian. Just look at them all!

“And hey, they got to see a pretty sweet opening act too. Calling themselves the Decemberists and led by lovably literate Steve Novick endorser Colin Meloy, this feisty fivepiece charmed the gathered for a good 45 minutes before Senator Obama took the stump. They even closed out with a sing-along entitled "Sons & Daughters", which had the masses joining the band to declare "Here all the bombs fade away..." Something tells me this Decemberists band is going places. Just like Senator Obama.”

There's nothing wrong with a candidate using celebrity power to draw a crowd, but the media have a responsibility to report their presence. By ignoring the free concert, the Times and other outlets made it appear that 75,000 people were drawn only by Sen. Obama's considerable charisma.

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.