PREVIOUSLY:  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. — JONATHAN VALANIA  [Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3rd, 2006]

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