Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I'm actually surprised how generic I find the sound of this double-live disc.  All the traditional instruments are here, the fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin, and the Americana ones too, with pedal steel, Hammond B3, 12-string.  The traditional-sounding songs too, with antique words like bonnet, jasmine, panoply.  But it's all so clean.  And they seem so happy, "listen to us making this lovely folk music for you young people", like they discovered the damn sound or something.  It's twee, I tell ya, and makes me long for some real modern folk, anything that's come out of England since Fairport Convention.

This collection comes from last summer's celebratory tour, on the heels of the successful The King Is Dead album, a disc I liked precisely one song from.  That was Down By The Water, which had some guts to it.  It's here, plus over two hours of tracks recorded in Amphitheaters and Auditoriums and Centers all over the mid-west, places such as Louisville, Redmond, and Madison.  I guess they wanted to show how they were connected to the real people.  Why they didn't just pick one show instead of eleven different venues is puzzling, since they didn't really care about editing, at least for the home listener's sake.  There are several sing-along points on the disc, surely the most boring thing to have going on in your living room.  We must suffer through several minutes of Colin Meloy exhorting the crowd to sing, and then splitting them into parts, which might be fun if you are actually in the crowd, but not sitting alone on your sofa.  The cats didn't want to sing with me.  Luckily, the white one is deaf.

Oh god, here's some more.  The first 90 seconds of The Mariner's Revenge Song is taken up with Meloy's instructions on how to scream when the audience get the proper signal, and then a practice scream.  Yes, 90 seconds, I timed it.  The Ramones made classics in 90 seconds.  10,000 people at McMenamins Edgefield Amphitheater in Troutdale, Oregon (you can't make this stuff up folks) got taught how to scream, which they then proceed to do in this ghastly 12-minute, 15 seconds song (okay, 10 and three-quarters, if you take off the scream lessons).  Now you can learn how to scream, too, thanks to this valuable inclusion.  You might want to move to Troutdale if you enjoy the experience.  Okay, now the main scream comes on cue, and it lasts a good 25 seconds.  Boy, that was enlightening.

There is a fine version of The Crane Wife, which runs 16 minutes but is well worth it.  This rather wacky tale actually does live up to the fame The Decemberists have gained, and I'd hoped the band would travel down those roads further.  Instead, they have backed off into blandness, pandering to these amphitheaters rather than challenging themselves and the audience.

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