Concert Review: The Decemberists at the Beacon Theater

Decemberists Beacon Theatre
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The Portland-based folk-rock band hits new heights with the music from their great new album The King Is Dead.

Kicking off an international, the folk-rock band delivered a rousing show that emphasized its new release while not neglecting the more ornate material from throughout their career.

NEW YORK -- It took more than a decade and a distinct shift in style, but the Decemberists have finally broken through, big time. The King Is Dead, the latest release from the Portland, Ore.-based folk/rock, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week, thanks in no small part to the band's shift toward tighter song structures and instantly accessible, tuneful melodicism. Kicking off an international tour with a three-night engagement at New York City's elaborately ornate Beacon Theater, the band delivered a rousing show that emphasized the new release while not neglecting the more ornate material from throughout their career.

Led by unassuming, bespectacled frontman and songwriter Colin Meloy, the band demonstrated both precise musicianship and a loosey-goosey, relaxed attitude that delighted the sold-out crowd.

Clearly influenced by early R.E.M. -- that band's guitarist Peter Buck is prominently featured on the new album -- and featuring elements of country, Celtic music and folk, such new songs as "Down by the Water," "Don't Carry It All," "Rox in the Box" and "This Is Why We Fight" were concert highlights. With gorgeous arrangements featuring such instruments as fiddle (played by special guest Sara Watkins), mandolin, harmonica and organ, the jaunty acoustic music shone with crystalline clarity.

The band's Northwestern roots were reflected in a humorous taped introduction by Portland Mayor Sam Adams and a backdrop depicting a lush forest of evergreens. The band members bantered in casual fashion throughout the evening, with Meloy projecting an off-kilter humor if not necessarily sparkling wit.

"Some people like to sit, some people like to stand," he observed at one point. Later, in response to one audience member's declaration that she was unemployed, he helpfully suggested, "Start a band."

Meloy's playful attitude was demonstrated early in the evening, when he played a guitar solo while lying flat on his back (cue the cell phone cameras). Later, he brought audience members onstage for impromptu vocal and instrumental solos.

While the concise new material made a marked stylistic contrast with such earlier songs as a trio of numbers from the "Crane Wife" song cycle and the encores of "The Chimbley Sweep" and "The Mariner's Revenge Song," all of the music displayed the shimmering beauty that makes the Decemberists' rise to prominence well deserved.

California One
Down by the Water
Rox in the Box
Calamity Song
Red Right Ankle
January Hymn
Don't Carry It All
All Arise!
Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Crane Wife 3
The Infanta
16 Military Wives
This Is Why We Fight
The Chimbley Sweep
The Mariner's Revenge Song
June Hymn