Tag Archives: Jenny Conlee

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The Decemberists Drop In on New Venue Brooklyn Steel

April 18th, 2017

The Decemberists – Brooklyn Steel – April 17, 2017

image(The Decemberists play Brooklyn Steel again tonight and tomorrow.)

Not to show my age or anything, but (I looked it up), the first time I saw the Decemberists was at the relatively intimate Mercury Lounge nearly 14 years ago. Back then it was as equally inconceivable that a venue like Brooklyn Steel could exist where it now does as it was that the Decemberists might headline one of its first run of shows. The Decemberists were “Portland” before “Portland” was a thing—or “Williamsburg” was a thing for that matter—and still have the same magic today that they did back then. Kicking off the first of three shows in the brand-new room, they felt like an old friend stopping in for a visit. Before we get to their set, though, I have to spare a sentence or two for Julien Baker, who induced chills in the opening slot, reducing the large venue with just her guitar and voice, commanding the place as if holding a heart-to-heart in a living room. If you’re going to one of the next two nights, don’t miss her.

The Decemberists took the stage to a literal fanfare over the PA, frontman Colin Meloy announcing, “Welcome to Night One,” not even waiting until the first song to play with the crowd, joining in on drummer John Moen’s intro to playact lifting up the audience. By the time “The Infanta” began in full, the band and audience were already locked in for a long night of Decemberists-induced fun. With Meloy’s judicious use of the dramatic pause and the lights momentarily catching the disco ball, bathing the crowd in stars, Brooklyn Steel was immediately transformed. Without a new album to promote, the band was free to play from across their vast catalog, and it only took a couple of songs to realize that you could fill quite a few sets with “greatest hits,” things rolling with “We Both Go Down Together” (introduced as Donald Trump Jr. fan fiction) and a sing-along “Down by the Water.” With slight tweaks on their instruments, like guitarist Chris Funk moving to pedal steel or Jenny Conlee picking up her accordion, the band transformed their sound, gypsy swing to fantastical prog rock, all while Meloy sang his pitch-perfect songs, usually of woe, creating new worlds within the greater Decemberists universe.

Olivia Cheney came out to guest on a debut song from a reported fuller collaboration with her, which stretched that universe even more, the band becoming backing musicians as she sang and played harpsicord-esque runs on the keyboard. Another new tune, introduced as “about the state of the union,” centered on the joyful phrase “everything is awful,” but it was actually a rather exultant number, easily inducing the audience to sing along with the chorus. The show closed with more well-worn, well-loved Decemberists material—too many songs to list—including an extended mini-suite from the more-than-10-years-old-but-still-feels-new album The Crane Wife and a fun version of “Chimbley Sweep” complete with a guitar-accordion duel that played like a short skit. Meloy was, as always, equally adept with between-song banter. I mean, who throws out the phrase “conviviality of a campfire” in casual conversation? But the evening did have that intimate feeling, just another evening with old friends. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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The Decemberists Put on a Career-Spanning Show at Radio City

September 28th, 2015

The Decemberists – Radio City Music Hall – September 25, 2015

The-Decemberists-by-Autumn-de-Wilde
In what was definitely a first for me: I missed some an opening act due to, um, Pope-related delays. Thankfully, His Holiness only provided a minor detour on my way to Radio City Music Hall on Friday night, and I was able to catch the second half of Lucius’ set with high-wire harmonies and percussive melodies stretching across songs old, new and covered. While the Pontiff was holding court a few blocks away, if you were looking to anoint a Pope of indie rock, you could do a lot worse than electing Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. Within seconds of walking out solo from behind the curtain, playing alone with an acoustic guitar, he was heartfelt, funny, ironic, literate and witty. The opening solo numbers had him rhyming “Steven” with “grieving” and providing mid-song meta-commentary (“This is where the guitar solo would go”) in “The Apology Song” and filling the curvature of the ceiling with his warbling, true voice in “My Mother Was a Trapeze Artist.” By the time the curtain came up and the band kicked in on “The Crane Wife 3,” Meloy announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Decemberists” to the crowd’s delight, you may as well have given him a funny hat.

It was a worthwhile start to the mass of sorts that played out in the historic room. While finishing a tour supporting their newest release, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, the band filled the better part of two hours with a career- and genre-spanning set, dipping into all corners of their extensive catalog. “Leslie Ann Levine,” off 2002’s Castaways and Cutouts, was equal parts beautiful, poignant and ridiculous, tastefully mixing pedal steel from Chris Funk and accordion from Jenny Conlee while Meloy spun his tale. The band performed in front of a snazzy patchwork backdrop that took on different colors and dimensions throughout the night depending on the lighting and mood, matching the Decemberists’ multifaceted array of talents as they wound through folk, rock, sea shanty and unique variations thereof. Meloy mentioned the Pope’s visit, dedicating the band’s “second dirtiest” song, “Billy Liar,” to him, the words “plays something familiar” resonating with the fans in the audience who yipped and sang along to the oh-I-love-this-song! set list. The new material shined as brightly as the old, “Lake Song” showing that the Decemberists transcend their fun, winking irony with gorgeous ethereal playing from Funk and Conlee, John Moen adding just enough shuffle on the drums.

Halfway through, Meloy invited everyone to sing along whenever they wanted and the crowd took it one step further, people, possessed by the indie spirit, getting up out of their seats in a ripple of energy from front to back and danced along to the highlight-filled core of the set, including “Make You Better” and a boisterous favorite, “O Valencia!” The encore featured a too-many-to-count handful of songs from 2009’s Hazards of Love, starting with Conlee on organ and the backup singers adding angelic harmonies in the evening’s true papal moment. The ensuing medley bounced around in a folk-metal-prog space that only the Decemberists inhabit, Meloy elevating, preaching in his own way, from his place on the indie-rock pulpit. —A. Stein | @Neddyo