The Decemberists: Live performances

I regret that my music posting has been quite sporadic around these parts of late — sorry ’bout that. Here’s a brief (but content-rich) one, and prepare to spend some money on great music.

Perhaps my favorite album of the year so far has been the new one by The Decemberists, The King is Dead. I’ve been a big Decemberists fan for a while now; I love their big, complex, literate “folk-rock symphony” rock sound, including second most recent The Hazards of Love, which a lot of people seemed not to like — silly people, I think. (The record also includes “The Rake’s Song,” which is one of the most harrowing murder ballads I’ve ever heard.)

“Stripped down” is how they’re describing the new one, with much more of a folk and country tinge and with a strong R.E.M. influence; some songs even feature Peter Buck on guitar, which is probably the best way to lend an R.E.M. sound to your song. The stripped down aspect touched all my folk-country-roots music nerves in the best way, and I found it hugely appealing this time around. Interestingly enough, a good friend who’s a music critic cited that aspect of the record as the primary reason he didn’t like it at all. All I can do is encourage him and anyone else who was put off by this record’s style to listen to it again, because it’s wonderful.

Not only do you hear R.E.M. in this record’s sonic fabric, but one of my favorite songs on the record, “Rise to Me,” sounds to me as if it would be perfectly in place on an Uncle Tupelo (or perhaps Son Volt) record. It’s gorgeous from beginning to end. Can’t you just hear Jay Farrar singing this?

I also love the little instrumental snippet of “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy” that they throw into the song “Rox in the Box,” reinforcing the album’s traditional feel.

The amazing folk-country singer Gillian Welch is also a featured guest on the record — here’s herself performing the song “Down by the Water” with the band on Conan O’Brien a while back:

And here’s the entirety of a recent visit to KCRW, which I missed at the time. Fortunately, they’ve been archiving their live performances for years (and incidentally, I really wish I had some from the pre-web days — there’s been an astonishing amount of great music made at that radio station). Appropriately enough, they start the show with a perfect R.E.M. cover.

You can download an MP3 of “Cuyahoga” here.

If that’s not enough, you can watch and audio-stream a live performance of the album The King is Dead in its entirety, from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland.

Now, go out and buy that record!