Prog Reduced to Roots: The Decemberists Let the Yoke Fall from Their Shoulders

Article Contributed by Dave Papuga | Published on Monday, February 14, 2011

Just by the looks of the stage before any performers stepped foot on it, it was obvious that the evening’s music would be substantial. In addition to the usual drum set, keyboard station, guitar stands, and microphones, there was also an accordion, an upright bass lying on its side, lone floor toms set up next to three of the stations, a guitar rack complete with acoustic and electric axes, mandolin, lute, dobro and banjo, and random shakers sprawled about.

Touring behind their number one record The King Is Dead, The Decemberists played the Boulder Theater on Wednesday, showcasing a core of songs off of the new folk heavy record, as well as some time tested favorites.

Mountain Man—three lovely young ladies based in Vermont—opened the evening with their beautifully blending voices and a single acoustic guitar passed around amongst them. The girls were well received as they took the silent audience to hymnal heaven.

The Decemberists brought along a secret weapon on this tour. Sara Watkins from the progressive bluegrass outfit Nickel Creek added fiddle, guitar and lyrics that fit so perfectly that you wondered how they could possibly get along without her as a full time member. The beauty is in the timing of her tenure—at a point in the band’s career when they have just released an uncharacteristic acoustic based album which she fits so perfectly into.

After an eerie, yet humorous Big Brother-esque intro by the mayor of Portland, Oregon, front-man Colin Meloy led the group through “The Apology Song” (5 Songs 2001) and on into “Down By the Water” from the latest release. This acoustic, harmonica laced rocker shows obvious R.E.M. influence. As a matter of fact, if R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen collaborated on a song, the end result would probably sound a lot like “Down by the Water.” As an interesting side note, Peter Buck contributed guitar to three of the tracks (including this one) on the new album.

The heartfelt piano and acoustic guitar driven “Rise To Me” was a sonic soother—from the combination of Watkins’ and Meloy’s vocals to the charming pedal steel accentuation—it’s easily one of the most beautiful songs on The King Is Dead, and is absolutely stunning live.

The rootsy themed songs from the new album, including “Rox in the Box,” “This Is Why We Fight,” “Calamity Song” and “June Hymn” were interspersed with older material keeping the evening’s sound eclectic.

From the stage/crowd theatrics on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” to the weaving of Jenni Conlee’s Rick Wakeman style keyboards with Meloy’s 12-string guitar on “The Landlord’s Daughter” to Watkins siren vocals cutting through the stomping drum and bass rhythm of “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga),” the show was easily one of the most engaging and thoroughly entertaining performances the Boulder Theater has hosted this year.

Check out more photos from the show

Thanks as always to the fine folks at the Boulder Theatre for their hospitality.