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The Decemberists Heat Up a Cold Night

January 25th, 2011

The Decemberists – Beacon Theatre – January 24, 2011

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The Decemberists played their first of three sold-out shows at the Beacon Theatre last night. Their brand new record, The King Is Dead, is more of a folk, acoustic affair than their previous couple of releases, and so Colin Meloy and Co. took the stage with a lute, fiddle, acoustic guitar, upright bass and accordion to open with two of the stronger cuts off the CD, “Down by the Water” and “Rox in the Box.” Sara Watkins, formerly of Nickel Creek, has been enlisted for this tour, adding fiddle and vocals and plenty of country credentials. Meloy was his usual chatty and affable self from the start, playfully urging the audience to stand up early on, which served to move the show from folk performance to the rock concert that most had been hoping to be a part of—clapping, singing, song requests and shouting soon ensued.

Throughout the night, Meloy indulged in the crisp sound of a 12-string guitar so often it seemed he would have been twice as happy with 24 strings. After the opening stretch of new songs, the Decemberists delved backward into their catalog, with “We Both Go Down Together” and “Engine Driver” off the Picaresque album. “Los Angeles I’m Yours” was electric, figuratively and literally, and punctuated by a grooved-up bass and electric piano, it was one of the highlights of the night. Playing along with the sunnier and warmer theme on the coldest day of the winter (so far), they followed their “January Hymn” with “July, July!” Chris Funk colored the show all night, switching between electric and acoustic instruments and adding wonderful pedal steel to “Rise to Me,” off the newest album.

With the crowd properly heated and the set drawing to a close, Meloy was in good form, bantering between songs and belting out his engaging lyrics. Finishing with a flourish, he finally hit on those middle albums, The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife with a raucous “The Rake’s Song” and a crowd-pleasing “O Valencia!” Not to leave them wanting, the Decemberists encored with a standout version of the epic “The Island” suite off Crane Wife and the promise of two more nights of engaging thesaurus rock. —A. Stein