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The Decemberists Kings of Their Stage

Kristi Kates - July 25th, 2011
The Decemberists Kings of Their Stage
By Kristi Kates
Indie folk-rockers The Decemberists aren’t your typical West Coast hipster band. Fusing their ambitious, complex songs with everything from historical happenings to old wives’ tales and lore borrowed from sea shanties, a live Decemberists show might find the audience doing everything from singing along to watching a quirky reenactment of a ship battle to being told to “scream as if they were being eaten by a whale.”
It’s all just part of The Decemberists’ colorful stage show, which also finds the audience doing a whole lot of applauding.

SIMPLE SPACES
Much of that applause will likely be for the tuneful tracks from The Decemberists’ sixth full-length album, The King is Dead, which was released this past January on Capitol Records. The King is Dead serves as the complex follow-up to the band’s 2009 hit set, The Hazards of Love, a romantic collection of tracks inspired by Old English folk music.
Their latest songs are a little more grounded in today’s realities, in part spurred by frontman Colin Meloy’s move to a more rural neighborhood, away from the band’s homebase of Portland, Oregon.
Spare, acoustic arrangements and more of an Americana, country feel infuse The King is Dead - an approach that actually better serves to showcase the talents of songwriter Meloy and his bandmates, Chris Funk, Nate Query, John Moen, and Jenny Conlee.
“It’s a real challenge to make simple music,” Meloy says, “and a lot of times we had to deliberately hold off and keep more space. This record is an exercise in restraint.”

RURAL PLACES
Echoing the sounds of the sorts of music festivals heard in small barns and across large farmer’s fields, the album’s musical theme also inspired Meloy and crew to bring in a couple of guest stars, one who fit perfectly in to this particular album’s mindset - namely Gillian Welch, who sings on most of the album’s songs - and another, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who served as more of a reminder of The Decemberists’ own cult status as indie-rockers who were, in turn, influenced by R.E.M.’s music.
Welch was chosen as a female foil to Meloy’s own singing, a paean to some of his own favorite country-rock records that paired up male and female singers, while Buck was snagged through the band’s connection to Robyn Hitchcock; Buck contributes guitar to two songs, as well as playing mandolin on the striking “Don’t Carry It All.”
Actually recorded in a converted barn that’s home to an annual “Pickathon” indie roots music festival just outside of Portland, The King is Dead includes even more Americana sounds, from Funk’s pedal-steel guitar to guest Annalisa Tornfelt’s fiddle work. But don’t fear, Decemberists fans - it’s still solidly a Decemberists album, even with all of these farm-fresh influences. The songwriting, the performances, and Meloy’s distinctive vocals are all intact and quite recognizable.
“The syntax of The Decemberists is definitely still there,” assures Meloy.

The Decemberists perform at Interlochen on Wednesday, July 27 at 8 p.m. Tix at https://tickets.interlochen.org/
 
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