Words by Tanya Seledee
Colin Meloy :: 01.19.06 :: Aladdin Theater :: Portland, OR
On January 19th, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists extended an intimate invitation to those who wished to be whisked away from everyday life. For a few hours within Portland, Oregon's Aladdin Theater, time was suspended as Meloy sang of lost times and friendships. Each of his songs was a soulful example of what his band The Decemberists manage to achieve every time they perform. Meloy played a solo show with only his acoustic guitar, a miniature ship, and a human skull accompanying him on stage. As with his band, the use of props is something to be expected when Meloy is at the helm. His signature red and white-striped costume jacket was nowhere in sight, perhaps signaling a mellowed-out version of his usual performances. His song selection carried an antiquated theme of folk music and storytelling. He was talkative and at ease, comfortable in front of a sold out show of obvious fans, even if they weren't always very vocal. Among the large crowd, the rest of his band was also there to support his solo gig.
Colin Meloy (center)
Meloy's solo performance showcased his many talents and a history of artful expression. As a creative writing major/theater minor from the University of Montana in Missoula, a town known for sprouting talented bands, he was in an alternative country band called Tarkio. Soon after the demise of the band, he moved to Portland to focus completely on music. Now that The Decemberists are hometown favorites along with Modest Mouse and The Shins, it's apparent that Colin Meloy is well on his way to becoming an established act.
Among the covers and popular Decemberists favorites, Meloy introduced fresh material that will eventually be incorporated into the band's future shows. The new songs carried a similar tone and feel as staple Decemberists tunes. Yet with Meloy performing them solo, the strumming of a guitar and the fullness of his voice and words replaced the usual orchestral arrangements. The songs all kept within the folk theme of the night but had somewhat of a 'Meloyian' twist that gave them an antiquated yet modern sound.
Although he and the band are categorized as indie-pop, they are at best on the outskirts of such a general description. Meloy's songs are anything but poppy, due to the theatrical and dramatic themes that each one encompasses. He is a literary musician who paints his stories with deliberate strokes that are layered among the scales and notes of his guitar. Nothing is there for the sake of filler. Each word is precisely positioned to emphasize a certain context or meaning. His structuring of words is truly an art; no one speaks the way Colin writes, at least not these days. He is a poetic linguist who has found a channel in music that allows his Homer-esqe odes to be heard rather than read.
His lyrics are not the happy-go-lucky songs of a golden boy childhood, but rather the product of an overactive imagination that stems from solitude and disenchantment in the survival of the fittest. While growing up in secluded Helena, Montana, Colin was removed from popular mainstream culture save for movies, television, and radio. Even with some access to what the rest of the world was doing, the detachment Meloy experienced also affected the way he interpreted his surroundings. Spending his childhood as a self-imposed outcast who felt out of place among his peers, he found solace in writing tales that let him escape a place in which he was ill at ease. As he grew older, the social awkwardness continued. He began to translate his teenage angst into embellished musical arrangements that eventually became epic orchestrated tales of the timeless struggle of humanity. While he evolved as a musician, he also experimented with theatre and acting. Besides the usual involvement in community and high school drama clubs, he had a small role on the short-lived mini-series Lonesome Dove starring Ricky Schroeder. Besides acting and music, Meloy has written Let It Be, a rock history of his childhood in Helena.
Dramatic, antiquated, and introspective, you don't go to a Colin Meloy show to down Red Bulls and dance to a beat. Instead, you go to sit back while Meloy provides a colorful escape from everyday life and conjures songs that are behind-the-scenes glimpses of the drama of those less fortunate.
Long ago, before television and electricity, the spoken word was the foundation of communication and entertainment. The most skilled and artful of the orators could transport their audiences from place to place without anyone ever leaving the room. Colin Meloy's solo performance proved that he is blessed with this ancient talent of song and dance. Both his old songs and his new ones are reminiscent of mini opuses dealing with past worlds and lives. With each new creation, you can't help but wonder what he'll come up with next.
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