The Decemberists Bring Playful, Theatrical Revelry to the Arlington

Portland Band Offers Night Brimming with Clever Expression

Paul Wellman

“This is one of many songs you’ll hear about the end of the world,” The Decemberists’ lead singer, Colin Meloy, said with a laugh as he began the rousing “Calamity Song” at the start of the band’s Arlington show on Friday night. Frontman, guitarist, and storyteller all at once, Meloy invited the audience into his thought process with quips such as these throughout the evening. Even without the engaging dialogue, songs such as the new single “Severed” ​— ​written from the perspective of a demagogue ​— ​and the blatant “Everything Is Awful” swiftly convey the influence of the current political climate on their songwriting.

However, Meloy’s songs don’t dwell in the ominous uncertainty of our times. Instead, his signature spin of fable-esque themes, penetrating vocals, driving guitars, searing accordion, and audience engagement lift the tunes into something powerful, grounding, and expansive.

Highlights included favorite “Down by the Water” and tunes from their new album, I’ll Be Your Girl, which features synth-driven, New Order–esque influences. The audience remained engrossed in Meloy’s humorous observations, such as likening Santa Barbara to a “city-sized Pottery Barn,” and nearly all came to their feet for the chant-able “We All Die Young.”

The Tim Burton vibe, complete with a skull backdrop; a traveling, inflatable whale; and audience inclusion infused the show with a playful, theatrical revelry. Singer/guitarist Eleanor Friedberger opened with a disarmingly lovely set of detail-rich indie-pop songs for a night brimming with clever expression.