NOVEMBER SURPRISE: The Decemberists, Electric Factory, Last Night [photo by MICHAEL DONOVAN]
BY MICHAEL DONOVAN We all have novels we constantly return to in times of public boredom or private darkness. I’ve read The Great Gatsby more times than I’d like to admit, and The Sun Also Rises ceases to get old for me. It’s fitting, then, that Portland, Oregon’s premiere storytelling band is just the same—no matter how many times I spend the evening with them (seven) and no matter how little their show changes (very little), I’ll never tire of seeing the Decemberists.
Take seven: The D’s are currently touring in support of their new Always the Bridesmaid singles series, three 10-inch releases with two new songs apiece. The best of these records is definitely the third, which comes out next month, featuring “Raincoat Song” and “Record Year.” All six songs (one of which is actually a Velvet Underground tune, “I’m Sticking With You”) fit snugly into the Decemberists canon, and the five that were played sounded great live. Staples from all corners of the band’s catalogue were also hit on, including the opener, Her Majesty’s “Shanty for the Arethusa,” and the one-two punch of Picaresque’s “The Engine Driver” and “On the Bus Mall.”
Even with new songs, though, the experience has changed little. Frontman Colin Meloy still thrives on witty crowd-banter, is not afraid to instruct the audience to sit down on the floor, and has a penchant for climbing stacks of amplifiers (and scaring the living Christ out of the E-Factory staff in the process—there are stairs for the upper level, man!). It’s expected that songs will be broken down for sing-a-longs and dance-offs, and one can count on not knowing what at least five words a song actually mean. Still, there’s nothing wrong with this familiarity. I keep on coming back for this band because the experience is just as enjoyable each time, if not more so—as a vet, I know all of Meloy’s instructions for shenanigans before he even gives them out.
Inevitably, the band will hit the road again, and probably within a few months (Meloy hinted at the new album, Hazards of Love, dropping as early as next March). It’s safe to assume that the show will be pretty much the same. And you’d better believe I’ll be there, soaking up an experience as fresh as it was six years ago. It’s that good. As a sidenote, the Decemberists continue their streak of having openers that make it worth showing up early. Thanks to Colin and the gang, I’ve been introduced to Stars, My Brightest Diamond, Cass McCombs, Land of Talk, Grizzly Bear, and now Loch Lomond. There’s no exposure like being sidekick to a troubadour!
BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Amongst people who like that sort of thing, Colin Meloy — ringleader of the Portland-based folk-pop collective The Decemberists — is the most satisfyingly literary songwriter to emerge from the most recent crop of indie-rock luminaries. Others find his tune-smithing to be cloying and contrived, like an English class apple-shiner who always makes sure his essay question answers always incorporate alliteration and onomatopoeia, and at least three examples of simile and metaphor, just because he can.
A bookish, blocky man with an owlish countenance and the physique of chatroom habitue, Meloy writes songs that could best be described as historic pulp-fiction, a faux-remembrance of all things past, usually set in some exotic milieu, an ante-bellum romance here, a sepia-toned Dickensian character study there. The Decemberists are like the kids from Western Civ. class who, when we break off into discussion groups, stage a hootenanny of historically-accurate sea chanteys and cheerful murder ballads. Conventional wisdom asserts that bands like the Decemberists are too clever for primetime by at least half, but in fact they are one of the most popular bands of the Pitchfork/New Media indie-rock era. They sold out the Electric Factory Wednesday night, and the crowd sang along with every exquisitely-penned quatrain.
The Decemberists take their name from a group of 19th-century Russian revolutionaries, but Wednesday night they look like they couldn’t overthrow a lemonade stand. Performing beneath glowing-orange paper lanterns and a wall-sized backdrop depicting a mountainside monastery in ancient China, Meloy and his merry band ran down the bulk of the Decemberist’s extant full-lengths, the most-excellent Her Majesty and Picaresque and the new and not necessarily improved The Crane’s Wife. The problem with the new album is that it trades the band’s immaculate folk-pop for ill-advised forays into prog and funkiness — never a wise move for whiter-shade-of-pale types like Meloy. Still, you have to give Meloy and co. credit for going their own way. And besides, on the eve of the election, in this desperate, hopeful moment, who better to lead a roomful of twentysomethings through a sing-along of “we will arise from the bunkers…hear the bombs fade away” than an earnest young man armed with nothing more than a smile and a lute. [November, 2006]
THE ZOMBIES: Time Of The Season
[Hat tip to EVA LIAO]