Is there a place outside the cozy confines of indiedom for a singer-songwriter as literate and prone to period pieces as Colin Meloy? After all, the Decemberists are something of the Merchant and Ivory of indie folk — the kind of band who’d name their major-label debut The Crane Wife, adorn the back cover of the disc with a sketch of the bird, and drop hints that it’s all got something to do with a Japanese folk tale. And anyone fearful that a major-label deal might blunt Meloy’s fascination with historical narratives and poetic constructions from the 18th and 19th centuries needn’t be alarmed. The disc opens with the warm strum of acoustic guitar supporting a melancholy if detached description of the crane in question sitting “unbowed/All clothed in a snowy shroud.” When Meloy, a 12-string guitar ringing pleasantly as he duets with Laura Viers, refers to war, it’s got nothing overt to do with Iraq. No, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” is a Civil War epic that gets ugly (“But oh did you see all the dead of Manassas/All the bellies and the bones and the bile?”) and tragic as the sense that he won’t really be coming home sets in. In their music, though, the Decemberists are more confident and willing to stretch out than ever before, especially in the 12-minute-plus “The Island,” a prog-leaning anthem filled with textured guitars, pounding drums, a long organ solo, and great little lines like “Its contents watched by Sycorax and Patagon in parallax.” And really, is it such a bad thing if Meloy isn’t afraid to send fans running for a dictionary every now and again?
The Decemberists + Alasdair Roberts | Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston | November 4 | 617.931.2000