By Brian Turk
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Most musicians aspire to perform before ever-growing crowds — and singer-songwriter Colin Meloy certainly doesn't bellyache about the burdens imposed by the large throngs that regularly gather to check out his longtime band, the Decemberists, these days. Still, he harbors a certain nostalgia for the old days, which he revisits during solo tours. For his first such jaunt, back in 2005, "I did a two-week tour playing in really small places," he recalls. "And I'm playing bigger places now, but it's still the same vibe. A smaller percentage of the Decemberists crowd is coming out, but they're appreciably more devout or into the music."
The flashbacks continue on Colin Meloy Sings Live!, his latest recording. He cut the disc for Kill Rock Stars, the indie imprint that provided him with a contractual home before the Decemberists signed with a major, Capitol — and Meloy says reps for the latter firm have been too distracted by the music industry's financial struggles to express displeasure at the move. "That label is crumbling at its foundations," he points out.
As for the material, captured in concert at locations such as Portland, Oregon, and Alexandria, Virginia, it draws mainly from the Decemberists oeuvre — but there are a few surprises. The set begins with "Devil's Elbow," a composition penned for Tarkio, an early combo. "That was one of the last Tarkio songs," he allows. "I think under different circumstances, it might have been a Decemberists song." He also works in sections of cover ditties, including "Dreams," by Fleetwood Mac. "I'm a staunch defender of all things Fleetwood Mac," he declares. "I count Tusk as being one of the records that changed my life, along with Zen Arcade," by Hüsker Dü.
In addition, Meloy unveils "Dracula's Daughter," which he proudly describes as the worst tune he's ever written — not that it's the only offering of his that's fallen short. According to him, "There are songs with just one line written. Some with just a verse. Some with just a verse and a chorus. I've even written whole songs. I have a song I wrote — the entire thing is written, and the last line of the song is, 'This song is terrible,' or something to that effect. So I've gotten to the point of trying to eke all the life out of it that I can."
Meloy has no plans to keep things small-scale forever; the Decemberists plan to hit the studio this summer, with an eye toward a new album next year and a tour to follow. In the meantime, though, he's enjoying the opportunity to downsize. In his words, "I'd always prefer a smaller audience of more rapt people."
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Colin Meloy.