"Decemberists fans are the most amazing singers," claimed Laura Gibson on Tuesday night at the Somerville Theatre. As the opening act on Colin Meloy's new tour, Gibson has had an up-close look at the Decemberists leader's delightfully interactive solo shows.
Tuesday was no exception. For 80 minutes the sold-out house not only sang, snapped, and clapped with rhythmic élan, they vocally re-created guitar solos and offered dramatic interpretations of death by consumption. All of this was at the irresistible urging of the effortlessly charming Meloy.
Even though Meloy is on hiatus from his literate indie-pop act, the set list consisted mainly of songs drawn from the Portland, Ore., band's many releases - with a sneak peek at one new tune - stripped down to a solo acoustic format. (The band will head into the studio again soon, Meloy reported to giddy cheers.)
Since the show was at Somerville Theatre, which also screens movies, Meloy began by informing the audience that this was not "the 8:30 showing of 'Juno' " but that his first song did have to do with getting knocked up, before easing into "Wonder," a sweet paean to love and baby-making. He segued neatly into the sun-dappled "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade."
Meloy's gift as a songwriter is an ability to sound witty and erudite without coming off like a pretentious smarty-pants.
Sure, his characters wear petticoats and find their ankles "pinioned," but there's nothing stuffy about them or the lilting melodies that tell their tales.
Although he vowed not to get "too VH1 'Storytellers' " on the audience, Meloy's between-song banter was nearly as entertaining as his songs, which was impressive given a catalog that swings without whiplash from whimsical folk-rock ("Apology Song") to funereal cabaret ("Shankill Butchers").
Among his various asides, Meloy claimed board membership on "MACOF" - Musicians Against the Calling Out of "Freebird"; performed a live "RickRoll," giving the audience a snippet of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"; and managed to pinpoint, with an audience member's assistance, the only other time he quoted "Fugue for Tinhorns" from "Guys and Dolls" during a show. Turns out it was in Boston.
The night's only misstep was a staid version of Sam Cooke's "Cupid," featuring Gibson on harmony vocals. While wistfulness is the song's main component, we missed Cooke's puppy-love eagerness. (The tune came from a tour-only EP Meloy was selling in the lobby; he has previously recorded similar tour-only offerings of songs by Morrissey and Shirley Collins.)
Gibson played an opening set that didn't bear down quite hard enough to make an impression. She had a shyly sweet stage presence, but her songs were the musical equivalent of mousy.