Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Decemberists at The Blue Note, 10/7/09

There may be a giant harvest moon lighting the evening sky this week, but inside The Blue Note it's a chilly, chilly December. The Decemberists will be cooling things down in Columbia this Wednesday with Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames. The show was originally intended to be an outdoor concert on Ninth Street, but it's been moved inside, so leave the fleece at home.

I'll be at the show thanks to two free tickets my friend scored at work. Otherwise, I think I'd be spending Wednesday evening writing a new post for this blog, running, or playing my cello. It's not that I abhor the Decemberists... I just don't like them very much.

I realize this puts me on about 100 different musical shit lists, but I can live with dodging the critical crap. This is MY music blog, and I say the Decemberists are so-so, and their lead singer, Colin Meloy, sings like a persistent nasal drip in the middle of December.

Ouch. Yes, I know, they aren't that bad, but they certainly aren't as vivid as the wet dream some critics make them out to be.

And, yes, I'm still going to check them out at The Blue Note. If my eyes and ears are somehow blown away, I will be the first to admit the error of my ways.

All musical haranguing aside, who are the Decemberists? For starters, they formed in 2000 and call Portland, Oregon, home. And they are all immensely talented musicians—don't get me wrong. Jenny Conlee alone plays hammond organ, accordion, piano, and melodica.

Jenny Conlee

(What is a melodica? Realizing the full extent of my no-music-knowledge, I had to look it up. By all Wikipedia accounts, it appears to be a weird accordion/harmonica hybrid, with a keyboard on top and a mouthpiece on the side.)

The Decemberists' fifth and latest album, The Hazards of Love, was released March 24 as a Jethro-Tull-esque concept album. (From what I've read about the Decemberists, they really, REALLY like telling stories. I'm sure on-stage costumes are only an album or two away.) The album tells the woeful tale of forbidden love between a woman and a shape shifter (don't ask me), as well as the side stories of the two villains trying to stop them—the Queen of the Forest and the Rake (who happens to be a kiddie killer and rapist).

Huh? My thoughts exactly. Actually, I think the story idea is excellent. Concept albums are always satisfying with their straighforward simplicity. I'm sure this is what Rick Wakeman of Yes had in mind when he produced The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1973, containing the logical tracks, "Catherine of Aragon, " "Anne of Cleves," "Anne Boleyn," etc.

(The Six Wives of Henry VIII, rocking their wimples.)

Or consider the Kinks' 1976 album Schoolboys in Disgrace, which tells the story of a little boy punished for bullying other children and messing around with a naughty schoolgirl. Following his disgrace, he grows up into Mr. Flash, the villain in the Kinks' rock opera--oh, yes!--Preservation: Acts 1 and 2.

I could go on. This doesn't even scratch the surface of the exposed bottom of concept albumdom.

However, back to the Decemberists...

It's also interesting that on The Hazards of Love guest vocalists play the roles of the different characters throughout the album,  and so we have Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond playing Margaret, the female protagonist, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond playing the Queen. (Both singers shine as brightly as the word in both band names.) Colin Meloy performs as both the male lead character and the Rake.

Warning: "The Rake Song" is about a father killing his children—hopefully, not by singing them to death.

"The Rake's Song" by the Decemberists

If you have absolutely no familiarity with the Decemberists, you probably still know "O Valencia." This song is the closest I've ever come to thinking, "Huh, that's not so bad." But, again, that may have been because I heard it so often while captive in my car in stationary traffic with nothing else to do but sing, "Wait for the stone, on your window, your window..."

One of two videos for "O Valencia" off The Crane Wife (2006)

The video was inspired by the directing style of The Royal Tenenbaum's Wes Anderson. The video, as you might have noticed, tells a story.

Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames

Ms. Veirs and her flaming-hall band are complete unknowns to me. Hailing from Portland like the Decemberists, Laura Veirs has been called the Suzanne Vega of the northwest. When she isn't teaching guitar and banjo at home, she's working on her next album, July Flame, set to be released in January 2010. (You can hear Jim James of My Morning Jacket  guesting on a few tracks.)

"Don't Lose Yourself" by Laura Veirs (Saltbreakers, 2007)

Listen to Laura performing "Where Gravity Is Dead" from 2005's Year of Meteors.

Both Veirs and the Decemberists play good, solid music. Neither one knocks my socks off, but it's cold outside, anyway, and I don't want my free-ticket-havin' toes to get cold.

Come see The Decemberists and Laura Veirs and the Hall of Flames at The Blue Note, Wednesday, October 7, at 7:00.

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