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Music Notes

Went to see the Decemberists tonight -- awesome stuff, definitely check them out if you get a chance. I'm pretty surprised that the band is as popular as it seems to be becoming (i.e., they sold out the 9:30 Club very quickly) since it certainly seems weird and inaccessible (but in a good way!). Lots and lots of people seem to like them, though, which is great. I'm not one of those snobs who doesn't want other people to like the same bands I listen to. I do note, however, that "Sixteen Military Wives" loses almost all of its discernable political content if you don't have the video. That should have been obvious from listening to it on my iPod, but somehow it took seeing a live performance to drive that home.

On a loosely related note, before the show Julian convinced me that I should give Rilo Kiley another try. He was right! The problem, I think, is that I listened to "A Better Son/Daughter" first which, I think, really does stand head and shoulders above the rest and kind of makes the other songs sound bad in comparison. When I revisited the whole thing, though, I saw this just goes to show how good "Son/Daughter" is -- the other songs are good too, just not as good. Not going to become my favorite band, but good stuff nonetheless.

May 7, 2005 | Permalink


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What a coincidence! I just got back from the Rilo Kiley show in Austin tonight. It was my first encounter with the band, and I want to find more of their music now. Excellent stuff.

Posted by: Ethical Werewolf | May 7, 2005 3:22:52 AM

I say again, start with Execution of All Things. It's their best, most accessible album. The first three songs are easily as good as "Son/Daughter."

Oh, and in re: "Military Wives," this seems at least vaguely political, in a quasi-poetic sort of way:

Fourteen cannibal kings
Wondering blindly what the dinner bell will bring
Fifteen celebrity minds
Served on a leafy bed is sixteen military wives

Given that the wives are widows and all ... But yeah, it certainly doesn't carry the internationalist themes of the video.

Posted by: Realish | May 7, 2005 3:23:30 AM

Can I mention that they Decembrists are just part of a very hot Portland OR indie music scene?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 7, 2005 4:01:43 AM

In my very unhip way, I didn't get into the Decemberists until Picaresque came out, but I really liked it and bought their other albums soon after. I know it's been said a million times, but they do have a neutral milk hotel-esque quality. I've been listening to Rilo Kiley for a while, but I feel like they've never put out the album they have the potential to make. Jenny Lewis has a great voice though.

Posted by: Ricky Barnhart | May 7, 2005 8:10:24 AM

The word "Decemberists" even sounds nerdy. But when the nerd war comes, you want these guys on your side.

Posted by: Kuz | May 7, 2005 9:00:22 AM

The Decebrewho? Rilo what? What kind of a name is Rilo?

Posted by: Grond | May 7, 2005 10:06:18 AM

Go back to the last Rilo Kiley album ("Execution of All Things"), it's even better. And as long as I'm plugging bands, the last album by the Delgados, "Universal Audio," is extraordinary, as is the most recent album by the Doves, "Some Cities."

Posted by: Charlie Murtaugh | May 7, 2005 10:07:27 AM

I've heard only one Decemberists song, but that made me think that if you like them (which I did) you might also like John Vanderslice.

Posted by: J. Ellenberg | May 7, 2005 11:03:32 AM

The Decemberists show last night was excellent, wasn't it? I'm pleased to report that they sound just as good, if not better, live. And the band is capable of inciting cheesy audience participation rituals that somehow manage to feel natural and unforced. Despite their obscure, intellectual image, as a live act their music is really just pure (mostly) innocent fun. When they broke into Hava Nagila in the middle of "The Chimbley Sweep", it confirmed my intuition that the Decemberists are basically just the best Bar-Mitzvah band ever.

The Kate Bush cover was a nice touch, too.

We bumped into the bass player, Nate Query, at the Velvet Lounge before the show. Seems like a very cool guy. But no Matt Yglesias sighting, unfortunately. So the evening was not entirely without its share of disappointment. ;)

Posted by: Violet | May 7, 2005 1:51:45 PM


How can you say 16MW lacks political content? The lyrics are all about a domineering America, a complacent news media, an ineffectual activism from Hollywood and the Academy, and about the soldiers who die as a result of all of the above. It's not about the UN anymore, but it's all about the politics.

And it was an awesome show.

Posted by: Simon | May 7, 2005 2:03:12 PM

I agree, Simon:

Seventeen company men
Out of which only twelve will make it back again
Sergeant sends a letter to five
Military wives, whose tears drip down through ten little eyes

Cheer them on to their rivals
Cause America can, and America can't say no
And America does, if America says it's so
It's so!

And the anchorperson on TV goes...
La de da de daIt's not particularly hard to take home a political message from that, is it?

Posted by: Violet | May 7, 2005 3:27:16 PM

I'm going to see them in a few weeks so its nice to hear that they're great live. I read somewhere that "The Mariner's Revenge Song" was recorded live in a studio with the whole band playing into a single mike. I don't know if it's true but it would be pretty impressive and speak to their abilities as a live act.

Posted by: Josh | May 7, 2005 6:00:28 PM

I was surprised as hell by the Decemberists show. Was totally ready to pooh-pooh the night away, but they were pretty tight. However, I recognize that the fiddle player is a talented musician, but something about that Kate Bush cover was somewhat disturbing.

Posted by: fnook | May 7, 2005 8:06:18 PM

I concur with the Doves plug above. Also, British Sea Power - I saw them last night and they were truly outstanding. They're playing in DC next week, too, as it turns out.

Posted by: strannix | May 7, 2005 8:47:11 PM

the decemberists - weird and inaccessible?! they're on npr, apparently! but npr is sort of weird and inaccessible to some, i guess. as for rilo kiley, the first album is the best, in my opinion. the latest is pretty bad. if you like the guy voice, you might want to check out his new band, the elected. or watch boy meets world.

Posted by: Jonas! | May 7, 2005 9:24:23 PM

16 Military Wives is clearly political, and I totally thought so before I saw the video, and to be honest, I was surprised that the band was doing a tune that was so overtly political and, might I say, trite. At the same time, it's clearly the standout track on the album, but I fear the band might have a big hit with that track (though I doubt it, because of the overt political content), in the same way that Ben Folds Five had a big hit with "Brick." In other words, I don't think it's great when a band has a hit with a tune that's atypical of their sound, because it screws with expectations. Though 'Billy Liar' is probably the band's poppiest tune, '16 Military Wives' has the biggest mass appeal. Hey, it's not about sailing!


Posted by: adam j. sontag | May 8, 2005 2:16:10 AM

Am I alone in taking a different political message from the video for "16 Military Wives" than from the song itself? I do find both to be political, but the song seemed to target the right, left, and everyone in between; the video struck me as much more specific. (Which, for me, was the problem with it -- while I liked the idea of a Model UN gone amok, the symbolism felt too heavy-handed for my tastes.)

Posted by: Toby Carroll | May 8, 2005 10:46:15 PM

I think I saw them for the last time at Irving Plaza. A friend of mine called them only a few steps shy of They Might Be Giants, and I have to agree. 95% male audience, nerds all. I'll keep buying the albums, but their live show...ugh.

Posted by: tps12 | May 9, 2005 1:05:54 PM

Their entire live show from the 9:30 club is up now on NPR. Warning: it's not a permalink so you'll probably have to search in a few days.

I gave it a listen and it sounds like a good concert but nothing will touch New Order's show last Thursday in NYC. I can tear up all of the tickets I have for the rest of the summer. That was the show of the season and nothing is going to come close.

Posted by: Rebecca | May 10, 2005 12:35:24 PM

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