Posts Tagged ‘The Decemberists’
In just its third iteration, it’s clear the Boston Calling music festival, which takes place on the brick and concrete expanses of Boston’s City Hall Plaza is a festival that could become a staple of the spring and summer festival circuits. (Although given the vagaries of the festival business, you can never be certain which ventures will ultimately succeed.) This spring edition was a three-day affair starting with an abbreviated lineup on Friday night (featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Jack Johnson) and stretching through Sunday evening (headlined by Modest Mouse). This review will be covering Saturday’s lineup, which, in my personal opinion, was the strongest of the bunch.
Saturday was chock-full of West Coast bands, but the festivities were kicked off at 1:00 by local synth-rock act Magic Man. After meeting up with some friends for lunch right across the street from the fenced-off plaza, we only made it through the gates in time to catch the tail-end of their short 30-minute set, which was punctuated by their radio hit “Paris,” for which they received an enthusiastic, hometown ovation. It was a promising, lively beginning to the day, which would stretch on for the next ten hours, but unfortunately, the lineup featured too little diversity. The homogeneity worked to make the real stars of the day shine even brighter in comparison, but for a bill with ten bands on it, you’d like to see a few more daring stylistic choices. I realize synth-rock and poppy alternative music is all the rage on the airwaves these days, but after hours of it–courtesy of Magic Man, Maximo Park, Walk Off the Earth, The Neighbourhood, and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls–it quickly starts to blend together. Those five sets were largely easily forgotten, with the possible exception of Walk Off the Earth’s spot-on rendition of their smash hit cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which featured all the bandmates simultaneously playing a single guitar.
But the real highlights of the day were sprinkled in between all the cookie-cutter sounds of the afternoon and then rightfully backloaded for the waning sunlight hours and late evening.
Following up their #1 record, The King is Dead, The Decemberists have released an EP, suitably titled Long Live the King, that serves as a sort of cutting-room floor type of collection.
I was gushing in my praise of The King is Dead, and honestly, I would feel repetitive trying to describe this EP. These are tracks that were mostly written during the album sessions and so they don’t veer very far from the sounds that the band ventured into on that record. Basically, these songs were not cut because they were a total departure from the tracks that ultimately made it onto the album.
The EP kicks off with “E. Watson” which tells the tale of Ed Watson, a Florida plantation owner who wasn’t afraid to take someone’s life and who ultimately was “buried all face down with a good view into hell.” That’s followed by the breezy “Foregone” which segues into “Burying Davy,” a mournful shambling march that concludes with a minor jam session at the end. And speaking of jam sessions, The Decemberists channel the godfathers of jam band music, The Grateful Dead, on their cover of “Row Jimmy.” There’s also a home demo here, and the record concludes with the brief, lazy, gentle swing of “Sonnet” which is based on a piece by Dante.
All in all, I would describe Long Live the King as the b-team for a really dominant sports team. Everything has been built up with the same ideas and goals in mind, but the starting unit just executes things that much better. I think the band made a wise decision in maintaining the streamlined and uncluttered approach to their LP, but this handful of extras is certainly worth a listen as well.
There is now no reason why anyone should dislike The Decemberists.
Before the release of The King Is Dead, the band’s sixth album, I could understand why this bookish Portland troupe wouldn’t appeal to everyone. They wrote long, dense, head-scratchingly complex concept albums about high highfalutin folktales and obscure nuggets of academia. Basically, they were the kind of band who would drool over the word “highfalutin” whilst beating you senseless in a game of Scrabble. There isn’t anything explicitly wrong about that approach to music, but it is no wonder that it alienates just as many people as it entices.
That’s why The King Is Dead is such a breath of fresh of air for The Decemberists – it’s the exact opposite, a chance for them to put down their inkwells and quill pens (that’s how I imagine them writing anyways) and spill their hearts, unburdened by strict conceptual flights of fancy, directly into the songs and our ears.