Let me preface this review by stating, here and now, that Colin Meloy is the frontman of the Decemberists. You're all welcome to disregard what I have to say about the show because it "belongs on Pitchfork" or is "too boring" or "not the Lawrence Arms." The rest of you, though, may be interested in Colin Meloy's solo performance.
I go to school in Seattle, one of nine cities lucky enough to warrant a stop on this tour. Local artist Laura Veirs, who is opening eight of the shows, began the evening. Her acoustic guitar and voice were both good, but not incredibly compelling. Toward the end of her set, a very specific formula for the songs became apparent: Play the guitar, sing a few verses, and then abuse the pedals so that a few measures could be repeated while she played something new until she manually faded out the song. The crowd's reaction was mixed; a solid amount of people towards the back of the packed Showbox had no problem with carrying on conversations between and during songs, but one fan towards the front called for a song by name, a request she was willing to play.
After Veirs' humble exit, there was a set change of about twenty minutes, and Colin Meloy took the stage. For his last solo tour, Meloy recorded an EP of Morrissey covers; for these nine stops, Meloy prepared a six-track release of covers by a British folk singer named Shirley Collins. He joked about her obscurity, and only played one or two songs from the EP during the set.
In fact, Meloy joked quite a lot throughout the show. He was probably the most entertaining, hilarious musician I've had the pleasure of seeing. Jokes about why he did a solo tour, people at the bar who talked during the songs, and absurd requests (someone called for "Jesse's Girl" after a few members of the crowd asked for Decemberists songs, and as the last line to one of the songs, he sang, "I wish that I had Jesse's girl.") kept the audience amused between songs.
The set was fairly long, but didn't feel like it at all. A variety of his band's songs were played, in addition to a few new tracks. One example of the latter included a song about the baby his girlfriend is due to have next month, which he jokingly introduced with a story of how he made a few rules when he began writing, one of which was to never write about having children, should it ever occur. (A few songs later, he introduced "Leslie Ann Levine" by saying, "I'm going to sing a song about dead babies.") Meloy also played "Tristan and Iseult," a song by Tarkio, the band he used to play in when he lived in Missoula, MT.
As an entertainer, Meloy exceeded my expectations; as a performing musician, I was blown away. Many Decemberists songs I was familiar with sounded almost better performed by just Colin; the stripped-down quality made them more intimate and gripping. If you're a fan of the Decemberists, or in the mood for a low-key acoustic show, attend this if you can. At least consider looking into the band, regardless of the hype.
A non-chronological, incomplete setlist organized by release:
Her Majesty the Decemberists
- "We Both Go Down Together"
- "The Engine Driver"
Castaways and Cutouts
- "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground"
- "Song for Myla Goldberg"
- "Red Right Ankle" (encore)
Colin Meloy Sings...Shirley Collins
- "Leslie Anne Levine"
- "California One / Youth and Beauty Brigade"
- "The Shankill Butchers"
- "The Bandit Queen" (encore)
- "Tristan and Iseult"