Archive for the 'tarkio' Category

CD Review: Colin Meloy, Colin Meloy Sings Live! (Rough Trade, 2008)

Colin Meloy sings Live!Ahh, Colin Meloy. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I harbour a particular fondness for The Decemberists. I’ve seen them live on a number of occasions and enjoy the theatricality of their performances and the sheer amount of activity on stage and the mad swapping of instruments. As Colin Meloy has never brought his solo show (and hence, the chance to buy his solo tour-only EP’s – grr!) to the UK, scratchy bootlegs aside, we’d never had the opportunity to assess what one of his solo performances would be like.

Funnily enough, on his first solo album, Colin Meloy Sings Live!, we do, indeed, get the opportunity to hear him singing, in, shockingly enough, a live setting. The album is Colin, his guitar and an audience. It’s nice. He’s warm, he’s personable, he’s often very funny, and he gets the chance to showcase some of the quieter Decemberists songs that the band do not often play; songs which, to be honest, if they did play at a gig, I would wonder why they were playing them. Songs like, “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground” and “The Bachelor and the Bride” which would slow down the momentum of a Decemberists gig, as those are usually quite upbeat and festive, but which in this setting really brought out the stories in the lyrics. The tone is, as it must be when it’s just one guy and an acoustic guitar, distinctly more toned-down. Colin himself tells the audience that he wants a “campfire” vibe and he encourages a singalong, although you can only hear the crowd on the few occasions when he stops singing and lets them take over.

The live show, along with enabling him to showcase some of the quieter Decemberists moments, also gives him the opportunity to play a couple of non-Decemberists tracks including an old Tarkio song, “Devil’s Elbow” which sounds like something Mark Kozelek might have written in his Red House Painters days, and some covers, most notably “Barbara Allen” by Shirley Collins, from his tour-only EP Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins. Strangely, on this track, he tells the crowd that on CD it has electric guitars and they should headbang in order to capture the harder feel he wants to evoke. Now, in my mind, if he can’t capture the song the way he wants to tell it, then really he should choose a different song. But it sounds nice enough, not having heard the Shirley Collins EP. He also plays what he says is the worst song he ever wrote. It is, in fact pretty bad – easily as bad as he says it is. Bad enough to have me thankful for “The Bagman’s Gambit.”

On the whole, it sounds like a great gig. “Red Right Ankle,” “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground,” and “A Cautionary Tale” come across very well and I found myself struggling not to burst out singing along to “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” “Red Right Ankle” and “The Engine Driver” as we were listening to the album driving across the Pennines from Leeds. I think my singing would probably have caused The Ledge to drive over the side of the M62, so I held back. As great as the softer songs sounded, “We Both Go Down Together” very much misses the full band, and the strange and sometwhat abrupt segue into the chorus of “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac at the end of “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” makes very little sense in the context of anything. The segue into a haunting, soft version of “Ask” by The Smiths at the end of “California One Youth and Beauty Brigade” works far better.

Ultimately, as great a performer as Colin Meloy is, both on his own and with The Decemberists, this live CD falls into the same trap as 99% of all live CDs in that listening to a live performance in the car, or sitting at home in your lounge or while cooking dinner, cannot possibly capture the atmosphere of the live performance and as a result always ends up either sounding sterile, or in this case, leaving me feeling like I’ve missed out on something. It’s essentially the same feeling as having a friend describe the amazing night out they had that you missed because you were home sick with the flu. This sensation was doubly emphasized by Colin explaining his stage set and the meaning behind it. While it gives the listener some greater idea of the setting, it also leaves the impression that something gets lost in the telling. I won’t spoil the comedy of the description by recounting it.

So, if you’re a Decemberists fan, this CD is certainly worth the purchase price, especially if you’ve never had the chance to catch them live. The acoustic renditions of the songs more than do them justice and are worth hearing. Ultimately, although I have no doubt that this CD is going to get worn out over the next few months from repeated listens, it just makes me a bit mournful about the tour that was cancelled last October and eager for either Colin on his own, or the whole band, to record a new album and get their backsides over to the UK.

Colin Meloy – The Gymnast, High Above the Ground (Live)

Tarkio – Devil’s Elbow

Posted by JustHipper on 23rd March 2008 at 2:28 pm | comments (0)
File under CD Reviews,colin meloy,decemberists,mp3,Reviews,shirley collins,tarkio.