Review: ‘The Decemberists’

Among the songs of war, kidnapping and bloody vengeance, the Decemberist's show at the Wiltern Monday night had an optimistic, celebratory air.

Among the songs of war, kidnapping and bloody vengeance, the Decemberist’s show at the Wiltern Monday night had an optimistic, celebratory air. This could be due to Barack Obama’s election (the band was vocal in their support, even appearing at a rally in their hometown of Portland, Oregon), which was mentioned a few times by frontman Colin Meloy, or the completion of their fifth album, “Hazards of Love,” due in the spring from Capitol Records. Whatever the reason, the 90-minute set showcased a confident, assured band.

They ran the sell-out crowd through a whirlygig of styles, from the opening prog rock suite of “The Island” of 2006’s “The Crane Wife” to the indie-pop of “Days of Elaine” (where Meloy’s grainy, nasal vocals evoked Robyn Hitchcock while the guitars jangled like REM), the nightmarish music hall of “Culling the Fold” and the salt-air folk rock of “The Engine Driver.” And the newest songs performed, “Record Year” and “Raincoat Song” — the final release of this year’s “After The Bridesmaid” series — are among the most emotionally and musically straightforward songs Meloy has ever written.

Pared back to a quintet, the sound is more streamlined, but retains its complexity. The songs still teem with extreme dynamics and circular riffs, but john Moen’s nimble drumming keeps them light on their feet, avoiding the sprawl of 70s prog. Guitarist Chris Funk and Jennie Conley on keyboards and accordion, add detail — a banjo on the plucky “Valerie Plame” (which turns the center of the spy scandal into a classic pop song, complete with a “Hey Jude” styled singalong coda), a gentle celeste and round guitar tones to “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” that brought the song into A&M studios, circa 1972.

The band’s ease with the material allowed them to show off their puckish humor, with Meloy grabbing a fan’s cell phone, calling someone and singing a verse, bringing some twenty-odd aud members on stage to add vocals to “Sons and Daughters” and leading the crowd in a call and response on “Yes We Can/Yes We Did.”

The Decemberists

Wiltern Theater; 2,200 capacity; $27.50

Production

Presented by Live Nation.

Cast

Band: Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, John Moen. Also appearing: Loch Lomond. Reviewed November 24,2.008
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