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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Decemberists and Justin Townes Earle Concert

Last Monday I saw The Decemberists and Justin Townes Earle at the IMU in Iowa City (the same venue where I saw Wilco last year). I reviewed The Decemberists album a few months ago in my third ever post, but I haven't discussed Justin Townes Earle yet on this blog.

Justin Townes Earle is the son of country rocker Steve Earle and was named after musician Townes Van Zandt, so it's little surprise that he made his way into music. His music is a mix of folk, country, Americana, blues, and whatever else he can fit in there. The crowd didn't seem to be too familiar with his material, and he only played for about 30 minutes, but he got the show off to a good start. Most notably (at least to me thinking back on the concert a week later) were his performances of "One More Night in Brooklyn" off of his 2010 release Harlem River Blues, and a cover of a blues song that I can't remember.

For a good chunk of my time as an undergrad, The Decemberists were one of my favorite bands, but sometime in between their releases of The Crane Wife in 2006 and The Hazards of Love in 2009, I drifted from the band a bit. However, their 2011 album The King Is Dead is one of my favorites of the year, and this concert really reminded me how much I love their older material. The band is far from your average indie folk/indie rock band, with many of their songs telling stories instead of being pseudo-autobiographical songs about failed relationships (as seems to be the norm in lots of other music I listen to). The band also captures my heart by using a wide variety of instruments that you don't find everywhere, and not only that but doing it well. During their set they incorporated violin, accordion, organ, upright bass, harmonica, lap slide guitar, and banjo (and possibly some that I missed?).

Lead singer Colin Meloy also did a wonderful job of captivating an audience with a combination of story telling between songs and crowd participation during songs. At one point, for a reason that wasn't entirely apparent to me, he described in great detail what he imagines to be the genesis of the Phil Collins song "In the Air Tonight" (pardon the pun). He pointed out how happy the band was to play in Iowa City, on the banks of the Iowa River, just down from Iowa street, in the state of Iowa (before saying we GET it. You like Iowa...). Later during a song that involved crowd singing, he attempted to split up the singing by majors (assuming a large portion of the crowd to be students).

The highlight of the show (for me anyway) had to be the band's performance of "The Mariner's Revenge Song". The (short summary of the) song is a story of a boy whose mother was wronged by a gambler, womanizer, etc. The boy vows to find this man and ends up finding him out at sea, when both of them are swallowed by a whale (killing the rest of the crew). The band performs the song as if on a ship out at sea and encourages the audience to scream as loud as they can like someone getting eaten by a whale at the climax of the song. It really is just a wonderful experience. I encourage anyone who gets a chance to check the band out if they tour near you, or to listen to their music if you're unfamiliar with them. The whole set made for one of the better shows that I have been to in some time and rejuvenated my love of The Decemberists.

Below are my favorite songs from both artists. First up is "The Engine Driver" by The Decemberists.

I am a writer, a writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
I've written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones

My favorite Justin Townes Earle song is actually a cover of Dolly Parton's "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?" that he recorded with Dawn Landes. The song was a free internet download (that you can get here) that hasn't been formally released by either artist.

As always, enjoy!

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