Come Jam With Sam: “December Songs”

I spent this past weekend visiting family, coming down with a suspicious sore throat that promptly turned into a full-fledged illness and seeing The Decemberists in concert at Radio City Music Hall. Kind of a weird assortment of events, sure, but it was a good weekend, minus the sinus infection.

The Decemberists are another favorite band of mine from Portland, Oregon (noticing a theme? Perhaps I should pick up and leave for the Pacific Northwest now …) Their folksy, indie rock sound is easy and pleasurable to listen to. The band’s discography stretches as far back as 2002, though I only started listening to their music around 2012. The group is currently touring around the country to promote their latest album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World,” and their upcoming EP, “Florasongs.”

Colin Meloy, the group’s lead singer, has the voice of someone you long to get to know; friendly and inviting, his voice sounds like it belongs around a warm campfire with an acoustic guitar and good company. I was amazed at how true his voice sounded live to the band’s recordings. If anything, this proved that Meloy truly has awesome vocal chops.

Meloy and the rest of the band, including an upright bassist, a guitarist, a drummer, an organist and two skillful backup singers, played a mix of songs from “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” as well as a couple hits from older albums. Down By The Water, a track from The Decemberists’ 2011 album “The King Is Dead,” stood out as memorable classic. As soon as Meloy strummed those familiar chords on his acoustic guitar, the audience cheered. Meloy chuckled and welcomed everyone to sing along as well or as poorly as they could.

From their new material, the group played some of my favorite tracks, including “Make You Better,” “Cavalry Captain” and “Lake Song.” “Make You Better” is easily the group’s most popular song from their most recent release: the audience roared when Meloy began to sing the lyrics, and everyone seated around me knew the lyrics by heart. The song is a fun, upbeat earworm reminiscent of the group’s earlier work and familiar sound. “Cavalry Captain” really allowed the group’s musicianship to shine; the song combines vocals from background singers, a catchy drum beat and an awesome horn intro in the chorus. “Lake Song,” a more mellow tune than the previous two tracks, has a darker, more somber vibe and provides a good break from the upbeat, instrumental-heavy assortment of tracks on the album. It isn’t my favorite song, but I enjoyed the group’s performance of it.

I was disappointed that The Decemberists didn’t play any of my favorite oldies-but-goodies. 2011 tracks like “Rise To Me,” “Calamity Song” and “Don’t Carry It All” are still some of my favorite songs in the world, let alone in this band’s discography. I suppose any band gets tired of playing its greatest hits over and over again at concerts as the years go on, but I would have loved to hear those songs, which all hold special places in my heart.

Overall, though, the concert was a lovely experience. Meloy and the band had a fabulously fun and infectious energy that kept me pumped and excited throughout the entire show, despite the fact that I couldn’t breathe through my nose. I wouldn’t hesitate to see them again someday … maybe in Portland next time, for a change of scenery?