Turning the Tables

For my recent (45th, but who’s counting…) birthday, I received a gift that I specifically requested — a deluxe box set of the Decemberists’ latest release, The King is Dead.
Happy Birthday, Tom!
Among other items, it features a pressing on “180 gram white vinyl” which is very cool. Records are making something of a comeback, among audiophiles and a younger crowd to whom they have that coveted “retro chic.” One of the nicest things about records is that the album covers are BIG and therefore the artwork on them is that much more enjoyable than the little CD’s we’ve grown accustomed to. Or worse yet, the thumbnails available on downloaded music. In this case, it’s just a photo of the band (a nice one, though), so perhaps the canvas wasn’t used to best effect, but it’s a pleasure to hold and see nonetheless.

Ironically, I may never get to hear the album this way. The last turntable I owned was also the first I bought, back when I was in high school. We just got rid of it when my parents moved out of their house, and I forget exactly what brand/model it was. But I do remember that it was a “changer” (meaning you could stack records on it to play in turn), and that it had a ceramic cartridge (as opposed to the preferred magnetic). It played 33’s (LP’s), 45’s (singles), and 78’s (oldies — had to flip to the other needle in the cartridge)! I remember that some multi-record sets (dad’s set of Beethoven symphonies, for example) were pressed specifically for record changers, so that you could stack up sides 1,2,3,4 and then flip over the stack for 5,6,7,8, for example. So 8 would be on the back of 1, and 5 on the back of 4, etc. Anyway, records were much more tangible than the recordings we have today. There were people who could look at the grooves on a record and recognize the recording just from that! I still have my collection of old records (somewhere…), so perhaps someday I will buy a turntable. But for now, the record will remain a conversation piece.

I was introduced to The Decemberists back in early 2007, around the time of the release of their Crane Wife album by an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The lyrics were so different from most pop music, and so refreshing, that I felt intrigued by a band for the first time in perhaps a decade. Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists, has a unique voice; and while he may throw around “10 dollar words” like they’re going out of style, I prefer his perspective, which to paraphrase, is a desire not to be constrained to using the limited vocabulary currently in vogue. But it’s not just the words, it’s the stories. While it seems to me much of today’s music (and to be fair, not just today’s) can be characterized as regurgitated love songs, the Decemberists explore a much greater range of the human experience, and draw from a wide variety of source material and ideas. Give them a listen, if you haven’t.

January Hymn

On a winter’s Sunday I go,
To clear away the snow,
And green the ground below.

On Friday night, Susan and I went with friends to see our favorite band, the Decemberists, play at the House of Blues in Boston. It was a fun night, which started with dinner at the H.o.B. The opening act was a band called Wye Oak, who were interesting in part due to their configuration: a female lead singer/guitarist, with a male drummer/backup singer. And the drummer only used 3 limbs for drumming — his left hand was playing keyboard and/or twiddling knobs. So they had a surprisingly rich sound for a two person band. His drumming looked rather frenetic as well, as he tried to do two arms worth of drumming with one. So they were intruguing, and I even sort of liked the vocalist’s voice, but you (I) could hardly understand any of her lyrics. And she was quite the shredder on guitar; not my particular favorite style. Anyway, curious enough.

The D’s came on at shortly after 9:00, and played until about 10:15 with a brief break. Disappointingly short set, but we learned later that Colin apparently was suffering from a stomach flu. Sorry, Colin. Last time we had tickets to see them, someone in the band got rather sick, and they had to cancel the remainder of their tour. That one was called The Long and Short of It, and it was two nights: one for their long songs, and another for their short ones. We had tickets to both nights, which was quite extravagant for us, and so very disappointing to have it canceled. But again, our feelings were with the band (mostly). We missed them when they came around for the Hazards of Love tour, which certainly would have been fun. Anyway, I can’t claim to be much of a music critic, but we certainly enjoyed the show — it was a good mix of material from their new album, and older tunes. And on the bright side, it saved us some baby-sitting money 🙂