Ordinarily, I'd blog the pair of Colin Meloy shows I just saw in two separate entries, but I'm in serious catch-up mode. Can't. Stop. Now.
Colin Meloy, Rio Theatre, April 29, 2008: I love it when a favorite band or performer hits a tertiary market, but living in San Francisco makes it too easy to sometimes stay put and let the musicians come to me. So I welcomed the opportunity to make a quick day trip to Santa Cruz for Colin Meloy's show.
This venue was new for all three of us, so we had no idea what to expect other than a fairly small place. And we were right--it looked to be an old movie theater, with a quarter of the seats ripped out to make room for a general admission floor. The wide, low stage served as a fitting backdrop to Colin's drama-drenched tales.
It's been about a year since I last saw the Decemberists and two since Colin's most recent solo tour, and quite a bit has happened in that time. The band is now on a major label (OK, that happened more than a year ago) and Colin has become a dad, for example. But in this low-key room, you wouldn't necessarily know that changes had taken hold.
For one, Colin retained the setup from the last tour, with a table full of tchotchkes at his side, though he had added a new homey touch: a simple chair with a rudimentary turntable playing old records piped over the PA. Awwww.
But listen in, and you could easily sense that Colin has grown more confident onstage as he bantered with the audience, accepting a hand-crocheted scarf from one girl, promising another his setlist, and referring to a mulleted boy as a "hesher," as mentioned in "The Apology Song." He offered numerous stories and explanations for his songs, including a pretty funny one for "The Sporting Life" and--well, he just talked. Paul thought he seemed particularly goofy that night, and Colin mentioned something about sleep deprivation. Perhaps young Hank kept him up; whatever happened, it worked in the show's favor.
Colin's audience is, without a doubt, adoring, and in this particular town and this particular venue, they weren't about to get rowdy. On their own, they offered harmonies and handclaps, but he still managed to demonstrate the hold he has on their imaginations when he split the room in two and assigned us our part of the layered harmonies, as well as when he urged us to act out segments of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (Annie finally understood why I got busted last time!).
In fact, I not only heeded Colin's directions at this show, I helped out when he started playing the Smiths' "I Don't Owe You Anything" but hesitated on the first couple of lines. Look, I've said it before: The Smiths were one of the truly pivotal bands of my teenage years, and they helped balance out all the Duran Duran content that otherwise dominated my waking hours. Besides, I love that song, and the 12-inch import single with Sandie Shaw on vocals resides with the rest of my Smiths vinyl.
As for the remainder of the tunes, I loved that he opened with the highly appropriate "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade" and that he dropped in the rarely played "Tristan and Isolde." He tried out some new songs as well, but I'm not sold on them yet. Still, though, the show was worth the drive over the mountains.
Colin Meloy, the Fillmore, April 29, 2008: And then of course, these same performers reach San Francisco in a club I like, and all is well there too.
This solo tour, the third I've seen, has marked the Decemberists' growth as a band more than any of their previous shows. Sure, I recall that they sold out two nights at the Warfield, but that seemed only natural. But Colin playing solo at the Fillmore (though the show itself wasn't sold out)--that felt big.
You wouldn't know it from Colin's demeanor, however. He looked cool as a cucumber taking the stage, and he kept his head, even as tonight's crowd proved a little more vocal than the previous evening's bunch. A group of fans who also attended the Santa Cruz show made themselves known at the front, with a request for "Dracula's Daughter" as well as prematurely providing punchlines to some of Colin's stories. Another guy farther back kept yelling boisterously across the hushed room, leading Colin to comment, "You should be in show business."
Overall, the San Francisco gig was a slightly more professional affair with fewer digressions than we heard the night before, but Colin and the crowd compensated with a higher energy level. Once again, I'll cite the example of "The Mariner's Revenge Song," if only because it made Colin run from one end of the stage to the other, egging us on in our overreaction.
Colin switched up the setlist somewhat, so we got to hear "Grace Cathedral Hill" (a song I'll never tire of), and I think this was the night we got an explanation of how "The Perfect Crime No. 2" morphed from his relatively straightforward take to the Steely Dan-inspired studio recording we've come to know. And I'd be remiss if I didn't play the Music Nerd card and mention that he dropped a couple of lines of "Rusholme Ruffians" (among my brother's favorite Smiths songs, and depending on the day, perhaps my favorite Smiths album) into a bridge somewhere.
We also heard a different set of new songs. One of them, Colin explained, involved a virtuous couple and a villain, and I gotta say that the villain had all the good parts. But anyone who's ever studied Paradise Lost knows that already.
At both shows, Laura Gibson joined Colin to sing Sam Cooke's "Cupid." At times, her voice reminded me of Natalie Merchant's higher register, and Laura has sweet, quiet songs, as well as a somewhat nervous, sympathetic onstage presence. The fans treated her with respect so that her songs could be heard.
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