Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Mariner's Revenge

The Decemberists opened last night's second consecutive date at the House of Blues in Boston with "The Sporting Life," as fitting an anthem for Colin Meloy's delightful dorkiness as there ever could be. The song recounts his dubious high school football days, experiences which included frustrating his coach, disappointing his dad, and losing his girlfriend to the opposing team's captain.

It's fiction, I presume, but I don't know for sure. I highly doubt Meloy even bothered attempting to play sports. But, I say this not to poke fun at him, but because, given his artistic abilities and his charming confidence, I like to think that he didn't waste his time with fruitless endeavors.

Meloy and company's musical abilities and penchant for theatrical comedy were on full display throughout their hour and a half set in support of the recently released The King is Dead. The five-member band was joined onstage by Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, who essentially filled the roles that Gillian Welch and Annalisa Tornfelt play on the album. Of course, I would have been ecstatic to find out that Welch—who hasn't released an album of her own since 2003—was touring with the band, but I didn't expect that, so there was no disappointment.

About halfway through the show, I tweeted a tongue-in-cheek remark that Meloy made to the crowd:

I learned later that this was, most likely, a response to a recent article in The Boston Phoenix, appropriately titled "How the Decemberists ruined indie rock." This knowledge was gained thanks to a friend of mine, who responded to my tweet with the following:

The article seems to be mostly an attempt at humor. The author, Luke O'Neil, makes fun of himself several times throughout, suggests that he was among the folks who "...fell pretty hard..." for the band, and even refers to The King is Dead as "...well crafted and precisely played and really, really nice and good." So, I really doubt that The Decemberists were all that bothered by what was written, especially considering it came from someone who also produces a blog called "Put That Shit on the List." I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the show. The major highlights for me, in addition to "The Sporting Life," included their newer material—especially "Rise to Me" and "This is Why We Fight"—and a stirring rendition of "The Rake" from The Hazards of Love. The latter featured four of the six band members on drums and a heavy distorted bass line backing Meloy's tale of mass filicide.

Despite these high points, The Decemberists' encore performance of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" was worth the price of admission all by itself. The eight-plus minute epic tale of a young mariner seeking his murderous revenge on the man he blames for the demise of his mother—enhanced by the band's onstage theatrics, as well as audience participation—proves that The Decemberists' brand of indie folk-rock (or whatever you call it) is alive and well. Take that, Luke O'Neil.

[The following is a three-plus year old video of the band performing the song live in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.]

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