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- Posted on Jan 25th 2011 11:15AM by Kenneth Partridge
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Starting the set with three songs from their just-released sixth album, 'The King Is Dead,' the Decemberists did their best to maintain that sense of community. Largely devoid of proper nouns and references to obscure historical events, the new songs are set in an abstract, seemingly modern America -- a place more relatable than the battlefields and magical forests of which frontman Colin Meloy sometimes sings.
Opener 'Down by the Water' was made all the more warm and familiar by a 12-string guitar line cribbed from R.E.M.'s 'The One I Love.' (Peter Buck even guests on the studio version.) It's no accident Meloy works the word "water" into the chorus; come that point in the song, it takes some restraint to not reflexively yell out Michael Stipe's vowel-stretching "Fire!" line.
Following two more new ones, 'Rox in the Box' and 'Calamity Song,' the latter built on another purloined R.E.M. riff, the quintet delved into its back catalog, airing three from 2005's 'Picaresque -- among them the rollicking, fiddle-laced 'Losing My Religion' nod 'We Both Go Down Together' -- and a pair from 2003's 'Her Majesty.'
"I'm noticing the middle part of the set just got very groovy," Meloy said, just after finishing 'The Soldiering Life.' That song, he explained, centers on a "homoerotic congress in World War I," precisely the sort of topic the Decemberists exist to write about.
Well, that and villainous rakes and star-crossed lovers -- characters featured on 'The Hazards of Love' and 'The Crane Wife,' the Decemberists' previous two albums. Monday night, the band made only passing reference to these conceptual works, focusing more on short, perky folk-pop tunes than multi-part story-songs. Introducing 'July, July!' one of the Decemberists' more danceable jams, Meloy reminded the still-bundled masses that "the seasons do change," adding, "You'll be cursing the heat soon enough."
But there's a sweet middle ground between freezing and boiling, and on 'June Hymn,' the gorgeous 'King Is Dead' tune that ended the encore, Meloy sang about it. Whether he knew Monday marked the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan's arrival in New York City, his harmonica line seemed a fitting tribute: a subtle bow to another writer whose ambitious use of language seldom obscures the feeling behind the music.
Colin Meloy Performs 'June Hymn' in 2010