Colin Meloy at the Woman's Club, 11/13/13
Photo By Kyle Matteson
With Eleanor Friedberger
The Woman's Club Theater, Minneapolis
November 13, 2013
During the final stop of his fall solo tour, Colin Meloy proved that he can be clever and comical even without his merry band of Decemberists by his side. Perhaps even more so, since it was just him, an acoustic guitar, and a trusty bottle of red wine on the spartan Woman's Club stage throughout the highly entertaining 90-minute performance.
Meloy was in a jocular mood all evening, telling humorous stories to introduce nearly every number, while delivering an 18-song set filled with stirring, impassioned material from throughout the Decemberists' catalog (with three new songs and a Kinks cover thrown in) that highlighted his imaginative, penetrating lyrics and rich, resonant vocals, which easily filled the intimate theater and won over the hearts of the packed house.
"It's cold in here," Meloy announced as he unassumingly took the stage to a loud ovation. "So, I advise you to snuggle close to your neighbor, maybe introduce yourself first. Preferably to the neighbor that you don't know." After encouraging us all to sing along with him throughout the show -- since this is part of what he's calling a cozy, campfire tour -- he started with a rather droll new song, the pompously titled "The Singer Addresses His Audience," which turned out to be a lark, referencing a drummer's hairstyle (in a subtle nod to Pavement, perhaps) and Axe shampoo. It was a heady balance between the outright goofy and sublime, which actually carried on throughout the scintillating performance.
"July, July!" got things going emphatically, with the crowd gradually warming to the idea of singing along, the steady prodding of Meloy helping us along. "You look a little buttoned up, Minneapolis," he teased. "I know we're in the Woman's Club, and there's probably ghosts of Edwardian schoolmarms floating about the place telling you to behave." Meloy shared the inspiration behind many different songs throughout the set, but it wasn't too difficult to figure out what caused him to write the next number. "This song started out as a way for me to get my son to eat some food," he explained amusingly, before treating us to the little ditty "Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal," with Meloy also working in naan bread to the simple but catchy number.
That silly track flowed smoothly into a rousing version of the R.E.M.-echoing "Calamity Song," and from there the night truly became special. Lest we think Meloy takes himself or his precious songs too seriously, he admonished himself before a riveting version of "The Soldiering Life" by saying, "This is my first time doing this intro -- it's not very good." A glorious rendition of "Oceanside" quickly followed, with Meloy mentioning that some seats were available right up front if people wanted to move up -- fans quickly snatched them up, though later the rightful seatholders would arrive and Meloy would scold himself for giving away someone else's seats.
"This is the fourth solo tour that I've embarked on since 2005," Meloy announced, mentioning that he originally thought of doing a Morrissey covers EP to mark the occasion. "I've been shackled with the obligation ever since. Be careful what you wish for -- I'm not even sure that applies in this case." [It doesn't.] On this tour, Meloy has offered up an EP of him singing covers of the Kinks, and while his rendition of their Village Green Preservation Society classic, "Do You Remember Walter?" was amazing, sadly it was the only Kinks track Meloy would play during the set.
A truly touching take on "June Hymn" followed a revealing story in which Meloy described a house he and his family moved into in Portland, a place that inspired him to write two albums and three books, but they just sold it and moved to a big farm. "June Hymn" was written at that old house, and the harmonica-laden song took on a poignant, bittersweet air as it washed gracefully over the crowd. But before things got too sentimental, Meloy switched up guitars for a rocking version of "Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)," which caused him to reflect afterward. "It occurred to me that we did The Hazards of Love just across the street at the Walker Art Center," he said, referencing the Decemberists' headlining set at Rock the Garden in 2009. "I strolled around there today. I saw some weird things by some weird people that made me feel pretty weird. It's a lovely place -- you're lucky to have it here."
Gorgeous, stunning versions of "Engine Driver" and "On the Bus Mall" proved to be high points of the show, before Meloy played two new songs for us. The first one, currently called "Philomena," is "My take on 'Blurred Lines,'" Meloy joked. "Every male artist should have something like this in his proverbial quiver. Who knows, maybe it will become a summer jam?" The bawdy song had some strong sexual undercurrents, which Colin addressed flippantly. "Playing that song in the Woman's Club likely gave it the extra dimension it needed. You can hear the Edwardian ladies titter." The other new number Meloy offered up, "Lake Song," had welcome echoes of Nick Drake threaded throughout the melody and vocal style as well as mentions of honeydew worked into a pop song, which is no small feat.
Photo By Kyle Matteson
After a reminder from the crowd that his wine glass was empty, Meloy poured himself a refill and then launched into an exquisite version of "January Song," which took on an added resonance for us Minnesotans given its cold winter themes. "You guys can relate to that," Meloy said after the well-earned ovation died down. "It's coming, you can feel it. Now's the time to move to Portland." After someone suggested he move here, Meloy admitted that he liked it here, and proved it by playing a minute of the 'Mats' "Skyway," which everyone wished went on a little longer.
"This song was never meant to be performed," Meloy explained as the main set drew to a close. "It was only meant to be sung over the phone to a friend whose bike was stolen. It was a red Schwinn." A sprightly version of "Apology Song" then followed, with Colin interjecting asides during the performance to let us know that Madeline was the name of the bicycle, and that a hesher was "like a burnout or a metalhead." It was another brief moment that further endeared Meloy to the crowd. After telling a rambling story that dealt with us all being transported to a transcendental campfire in New Mexico featuring a lonely cowherd who can't whistle (yes, you read that right), the main set ended with a retro-tinged take on "Bandit Queen" before the crowd saw Meloy off with a standing ovation.
Meloy returned after a brief break, and immediately launched into "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," which sounded sublime in the small theater. He sampled his acoustic guitar riff at the end of the song, deftly switching guitars for a smooth segue into "The Crane Wife 3," which brought the night to a glorious, eloquent end. Meloy was off with a quick wave, a warm word of thanks, and a promise to see us again soon, leaving us all moved by a night filled with both his imaginative songs and charming wit.
Personal Bias: I've been an admitted Colin Meloy fanboy since I first heard Castaways and Cutouts, and this brilliant performance isn't going to do anything to change that.
The Crowd: The full house was made up of pretty devoted fans of the Decemberists, who remained respectful throughout the show.
Overheard in the Crowd: Someone who perhaps knows Meloy's live history called out for "Freebird," with Meloy explaining that he's on the board of MACOF, Musicians Against the Calling Out of Freebird. "Some artists worry about Spotify, other worry about 'Freebird," Meloy joked.
Random Notebook Dump: Eleanor Friedberger delivered an engaging 35-minute opening solo set (her third time playing the Twin Cities since June), though her material took on a similar quality as the performance went on due to her ghostly, reverb-heavy electric guitar work that didn't change up much from song to song. Her dulcet vocals and strong songwriting did shine through on "Tomorrow Tomorrow," "Evergreen," "I Am the Past," and "My Mistakes," as did her charming personality, as she joked about how she figured out why Colin asked her to tour with him, "Just so he'd be eligible to play this place," and how the Walker's works by Claes Oldenburg made her "nostalgic for the Lower East Side, where I've never lived."
The Singer Addresses His Audience (New Song)
Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal
The Soldiering Life
Do You Remember Walter? (The Kinks)
Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
On the Bus Mall
Philomena (New Song)
Lake Song (New Song)
The Apology Song
The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Crane Wife 3
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