Colin Meloy Sings Live!
Kill Rock Stars
Colin Meloy is everywhere these days. His band, The Decemberists, are the toast of the literate and literary, college music scene, buoyed by Meloy’s penchant for dictionarial language, coupled with catchy melodies. Here, he goes it alone. Just Colin and his various acoustic guitars. As was evidenced in May at the Wonder Ballroom, such sparsity of arrangement in no way deters the ardor of his loyal fans
Also clearly in evidence is Meloy’s past, as a singer of original folk songs, before the Decemberists were ever formed, when he played to mostly empty rooms here in Portland; before he was discovered by his adoring fans. Meloy demonstrates a good sense of humor, setting up numerous songs with easy anecdotes and affable asides. An enjoyable evening of entertainment. Here he mostly selects songs from middle-period Decemberists albums: Castaways and Cutouts, Her Majesty and Picaresque. There are no songs pulled from the latest Decemberists release- Crane Wife- ostensibly because this album was recorded before the release of that album. Also missing is “Shiny” from Five Songs, a version which he performed so well at the Wonder Ballroom in May. In fact his set-list was quite a bit different for that show.
Highlights include a version of “Devil’s Elbow” which was a song he performed back home in Montana with his band Takiro. Impassioned takes on “We Both Go Down Together“ from Picaresque, “The Gymnast High Above the Ground” from Her Majesty and “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect” from Castaways. The latter track features a brief singalong portion of “dreams” from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album.
Two new cuts follow, “Dracula’s Daughter’ (which Meloy rightfully cites as the worst song he ever wrote) and “Wonder,” a pleasing ballad, which sounds as if it might be an out-take from the Crane Wife sessions. From there he launches into “Barbara Allen” a traditional song culled by renowned folksinger Shirley Collins, which appears on an EP Meloy recorded at home for his fans.
Two songs from Picaresque follow: a sterling version of “The Engine Driver” and a workmanlike version of “On The Bus Mall.” From there, he cites Castaways’ “California One/Youth And Beauty Brigade” with a nice bit of the Smiths’ “Ask” tagged at the end. A piquant reading of “The Bachelor and the Bride” from Her Majesty follows.
“A Cautionary Song” from Castaways is given a light treatment, with neither Meloy nor the crowd taking it particularly seriously- the audience sings the last lines without Meloy even moving his lips. Colin engages the crowd again to join in on “Red Right Ankle” from Her Majesty- which he alludes to as a “country” song (which country is not specified). He throws in a very satisfying version of Nick Drake’s “Blues Run The Game” (on the vinyl version), before launching into a campfire sing-along version of “Bandit Queen,” which was ostensibly left off Picaresque.
As a solo performer, Colin Meloy exudes a certain charm that is not always found in his performances with the Decembrists- a little more low-key. A little more subdued. This allows the songs to stand out- to stand on their own merit. He delivers them in an off-handed manner, not unlike the way a singer such as Donovan delivers his songs.
In some ways, this is almost preferable to having a band to back him. The songs are naked and the stories are far more in focus. This is a wonderful album which lovers of Colin Meloy and the Decemberists (as well as newcomers to the works) are certain to enjoy.