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Colin Meloy, Eleanor Friedberger warm up Chicago’s Park West (11/11)

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    “Winter has arrived, my friends,” a bespectacled Colin Meloy told the capacity crowd at Chicago’s Park West, many of whom were still shaking snowflakes from their hair. “And it’s all about accepting the wintriness in us all.” A slight pause, then, “It’s a campfire, folks.”

    And perhaps that’s the perfect image for The Decemberists frontman’s solo tours, which he’s been embarking on since 2005, that of a communal campfire bending and whirling against a winter storm. I know that’s what it felt like for us Chicagoans, who, on Monday afternoon and evening, received our first cumulative snowfall of the season. Scarves loosened, but not removed, the crowd gathered itself around the warm, comforting lilt of Meloy’s voice, knowing full well the man’s songwriting bears an icy spine. But though Meloy tackled a few of his catalog’s harsher numbers (“The Rake’s Song”, “The Crane Wife” saga), the atmosphere itself could only be described as downright toasty.

    After opening with a featherlight new track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, Meloy deftly soared through “July, July”, “Calamity Song”, and “The Soldiering Life”, the last of which he dedicated to his grandfather, a WWII veteran, despite knowing that the man wouldn’t necessarily “cotton to the material.” Though he’s ostensibly on tour to promote his latest EP, a collection of Kinks covers, the set only made room for one of its songs, “Harry Rag”. And though the track’s near-impenetrable Britishisms, and Meloy’s refusal to explain them, elicited plenty of laughs, it didn’t necessarily make me clamor for a recording.

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    The new songs, on the other hand, most certainly did. “This is my take on ‘Blurred Lines’,” Meloy said before launching into “Oh Philomena”, because of course Colin Meloy’s take on “Blurred Lines” begins with the words, “Oh Philomena”. The rhythmic, infectiously catchy “Oh Philomena” not only sounds like a lost Everly Brothers track, but also like the surefire single for the Decemberists next record, which could come as early as next year. “Why Would I?”, he other new song, sounds more in line with the The King is Dead musically, but bears echoes of Picaresque lyrically (sample lyric: “Cymbeline, reclining in your pew”).

    Speaking of Picaresque, where was it? Certainly not onstage, to the ire of a few nearby spectators. But the addition of the hilarious “Apology Song” off The Decemberists’ 5 Songs EP, a song about losing his friend’s bike that I never thought I’d hear live, was enough to extinguish any ill feelings in that regard, at least in my case.

    eleanor-friedberger-arroyoAs always, Meloy is a confident showman, an expert at working the crowd and poking fun at himself. In lieu of the hilarious “Dracula’s Daughter” off Colin Meloy Sings Live! we had “Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal”, a song he wrote to encourage his son, Hank, to eat his oatmeal. Meloy also enlightened us as to how Hank wanted to name Meloy’s two llamas (because, yes, Meloy apparently owns two llamas on his Oregon farm) after mythical beasts, because of course Colin Meloy’s son wants to name llamas after mythical beasts.

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    Opener Eleanor Friedberger from The Fiery Furnaces opted for the same solo operation as Meloy, apparently using guitar pedals for the first time ever. Aside from a few hiccups, her signature brand of muscular psychedelia sounded as robust and forceful as it does on record. “Other Boys” and “My Own World” from this year’s Personal Record stood out amongst their contemporaries, and a rendition of the Furnaces’ “Evergreen” scorched just as hot solo as it did with her brother Matthew. And though her almost stubbornly rhythmic strumming could become monotonous at times, Friedberger proved herself a likeable onstage presence, absolutely nailing Park West’s somewhat dated interior by dubbing it “this spaceship.” She continued, “Does Bette Midler ever perform here, like 1986-era Bette Midler?” God, I wish.

    Meloy’s three-part “Crane Wife” saga served as a fitting encore (and he didn’t forget the lyrics this time!), its tragic, wintry milieu reminding us that the blustery Chicago winds are howling outside. Every campfire eventually smolders, but the warmth is appreciated, Mr. Meloy. Us Chicagoans, we need every bit of it we can.

    Photography by Steven Arroyo.

    Setlist:
    The Singer Addresses His Audience
    July, July
    Hank, Eat Your Oatmeal
    Calamity Song
    The Soldiering Life
    Harry Rag
    Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
    Bachelor and the Bride
    Oh Philomena
    Why Would I?
    Apology Song
    January Hymn
    The Rake’s Song
    Down By the Water
    California One/ Youth and Beauty
    Encore:
    Crane Wife #1-2
    Crane Wife #3

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