Passé, you say? Not so fast.

It’s hard to believe that nearly 9 years have passed since The Decemberists released Castaways and Cutouts. The Portland band’s last two albums have taken strange turns and become increasingly theatrical and prone to prog rock, so I was a bit apprehensive to hear the new material, but I couldn’t resist at least checking them out. I was lucky enough to catch them for night two at New York’s Beacon Theatre. (See my full write-up here on Brooklyn Vegan.) What better way to experience their new material than through a live show?

The Decemberists at the Beacon Theatre (photo Mike)

Of course, I was absolutely delighted to hear songs like “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” (which they opened the show with), “Red Right Ankle,” “The Chimbley Sweep,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” But perhaps more surprisingly, I even found myself enjoying the handful of songs I had never heard. (They played a whopping 8/10 from their new album.)

With The King is Dead, The Decemberists seem to have exchanged the slowly unfolding and meandering prog rock featured on their recent few albums and turned back to tight songwriting in the more conventional 3-5 minute format. The new material is less frenzied and overblown than say, nearly anything on Hazards of Love. Absent are long-winded instrumental interludes and evidence of roll playing, strange characters, and period pieces. The King is Dead is far more immediate. Much of the material may have been new, but it also felt somehow familiar – like a throwback to some of the band’s earlier work. You can snag the new album on the cheap via Amazon ($7.99).

Here are a couple of new songs from Tuesday night’s show.

“Down by the Water:”

“Rox in the Box:”

Throughout the evening, the band succeeded in engaging the audience with their dramatic antics and candid banter. At one point, Meloy turned the mic on the audience and pitted the orchestra against the balcony for what turned into an impressively compliant and enthusiastic sing-a-long for the ‘la-di-da’s’ of “16 Military Wives:”

I still feel rather ambivalent about smug front man Colin Meloy (you should have heard some of that banter), but you’d be a fool to let your disdain for Meloy prevent you from checking out this band live.

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