concert reviews

Colin Meloy at the Birchmere, Alexandria, VA, Saturday 28 January 2006

The Decemberists' music is so lushly orchestrated and theatrical that it is difficult to imagine how it could be performed by one musician. But on Saturday night at the Birchmere, Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy stripped down his band's music to just his voice and a guitar, without losing the essence of his songs. Meloy did allude to his bandmates' absence, humming a missing instrument in "Red Right Ankle" and pointing out where a guitar solo will appear in a new song about the Shankill Butchers, a 1970s Northern Ireland group.

Despite such omissions, Meloy's solo adaptations never seemed thin: Even the melancholy "We Both Go Down Together" and the subdued guitar chords on the lengthy "California One" carried as much punch as their full-band versions. In fact, being alone onstage allowed him to connect more easily with the audience, as he paid homage to folk singer Shirley Collins by covering her "Barbara Allen" and led the crowd in a stretching exercise mid-show. He even humbly apologized for succumbing to the urge to write a song about his impending fatherhood. ("I thought that I could fight it, but I couldn't!")

Most impressive was Meloy's tremendous ability to command the silence and attention of the sellout crowd as a solo performer. Even during his quietest numbers, not a sound was uttered by the audience, a refreshing change from the chatter that usually accompanies acoustic performances.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 30 January 2006; Page C05
.: Selected discography: Omnibus (Tarkio, 2006); Picaresque (the Decemberists, 2005); Billy Liar EP (the Decemberists, 2004); Her Majesty (the Decemberists, 2003); 5 Songs EP (the Decemberists, 2003); Castaways and Cutouts (the Decemberists, 2002).