by L. Kent Wolgamott
Some observations from Holland Center for Performing Arts Orchestra Row Q, Seat 2:
The Decemberists opened Sunday night's concert with "July, July!" and wrapped it up five minutes short of two hours later with "June Hymn." That bit of full-circle seasonal linkage was clever in itself. But it also showed the span of the material performed. "July July!" comes from "Castaways and Cutouts," the Portland, Ore. band's 2002 debut. "June Hymn" is from this year's "The King Is Dead."
I'm not sure it's accurate any longer to describe The Decemberists as "prog folk" -- at least in concert. With the emphasis on songs "The King Is Dead," the show came off as Americana of a highly literate sort. Even at its most sprawling and ornate -- "The Cranes Wife 1 and 2" -- the feel was still song oriented rather than a showcase for "progressive" instrumentalism and the near medieval sound was scarcely heard.
With the lyric "and the Andalusian tribes/Setting the lay of Nebraska alight/‘Til all that remains is the arms of the angel" (told you it was highly literate), The Decemberists had to play "Calamity Song" Sunday. The crowd cheered at the appropriate times, prompting frontman Colin Meloy to invoke Huey Lewis ---that an audience will always make lots of noise when its state or city is mentioned.
Meloy, who is neck-and-neck with The Hold Steady's Craig Finn in the rock star who looks most like a file clerk competition, is an affable engaging guy, who has a wry, oft self-deprecating sense of humor. That doesn't come through on the records. But it did live, particularly when he began making fun of himself for a bit of inane stage patter -- "Andy put picks in my thing."