Say Cheese

The Decemberists (And Why I Don't Know Much About Music)

Some people, who I know, hold my taste and knowledge of popular music in high regard. While I'm flattered by the compliment, I have trouble looking at myself with the same eyes, especially when I experience moments like that of Monday night.

I was at the 9:30 Club to see a band called The Decemberists for a few reasons, most of which had little to do with the music (a friend raves about them, the show was cheap, all of my other plans had fallen through, etc, etc). I had briefly listened to a little of one of their cds on the recommendation of a friend, but after playing it in the background one night, I labeled them as nice, but uninteresting. Seeing them play live, however, put them and their music in an entirely different light. I must once again assert that I really don't know much about music.

If I were going to compare them to any other band (and many people like to), it would be to Jeff Magnum's experiment, Neutral Milk Hotel. Call it eclectic folk-rock, with an emphasis on the eclectic. The Decemberists use organs, pianos, guitars, bass, cellos, slide guitars, accordions, mandolins, and an impressive array of other instruments in their layered, beautiful compositions. Their melodies and harmonies are all solid, with just enough of a pop hook to keep the listener from wandering off. But really, the most noticeable thing about this band is the lyrics that accompany their music.

When Colin Meloy sits down to write his lyrics, I swear he channels the ghosts of Dickens, Tolstoy, Stevenson, and an army of other literary greats. Colin writes about pirates, truant little boys, homoerotic encounters in the trenches, your mom's life as a prostitute, and love, to name a few themes. These eclectic (there's that word again) subjects are fleshed out with a remarkable level of linguistic...dexterity? To put it plainly, it's beneficial to listen to their songs with a dictionary handy (what's a stevedore?) and a good understanding of 19th century English usage. Sure, this type of music might only appeal to geeks, but what do you think I am? I dig that sort of thing.

When I was watching the band on Monday night, the overwhelming impression I had of the five band members was that they were, indeed, geeks. They were probably in the drama club in high school (they're my peeps!). But regardless of the labels I'd like to hoist on them, they were having fun on stage and really put on a fantastic show. They were smiling at the crowd, at each other, making jokes, showing off cheesy rock poses and at the end of the night, I couldn't help but be won over by their sincerity, integrity, and good humor, not to mention their outstanding music.

I ignored this band for too long. I'm most definitely a fan now.

Posted by Mr. Eff on 06/18/2004

For the moment...

Book: Deep Blues, by Robert Palmer

CD: Brothers, by The Black Keys

Song: "Oh My God," by Ida Maria

Link: Shut Up & Sit Down

Ramble: Just An Idea