Colin Meloy’s day job is the singer-songwriter core of old world indie folksters, The Decemberists. He pens tales of Packiderms and Barrow Boys, the Infanta and Engine Drivers, expertly crafted between insightful bookishness and downright fey.
It should come as no surprise then, that his solo acoustic tour, which coincided with the release of Colin Meloy Sings Shirley Collins, a six track homage to the British folk singer, is littered with quirky footnote interludes as well as plenty of Decemberists tracks.
In every sense, Meloy aims to create the effect of a campfire sing-song, acting like the super-literate musical mate that you all wished you had the last time you had the marshmallows out. He thanks the crowd for singing along, and picks up nothing but his trusty acoustic guitar for the duration of the set. If live albums are supposed to make you wish you were there, or act as a memento for those who were, this is definitely one which most Decemberist fans will relate to.
We Both Go Down Together feels strangely void without its usual string accompaniment but survives on the basis that it really is a great, simple indie-pop tune, while Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect is another in the same bracket: missing its usual arrangement, but still a powerful example of Meloy’s songwriting.
Meloy introduces the audience to Collins, the second artist he has covered and sold exclusively on a low key tour (the first was Morrissey) and plays Barbara Allen, a slice of sixties British folk which sounds remarkably simplistic compared to his usual extravagant word play.
The whole of the show resonates with a simplicity that Meloy is not usually accustomed to but it makes a welcome change, paring down his songs and adding an extra dimension to some. His four tracks in one, California/Youth and Beauty Brigade/Ask, provide a perfect 12 minute showcase of his talents. It veers from barely-there ballad to upbeat strum-along, and concludes with a snippet from Ask by The Smiths.
Meloy is an imaginative and talented singer-songwriter, but in a live, stripped down setting without the Decemberists pomp onside, things feel a little bit restricted. Fans of him and the band will love the intimacy and relish the chance to hear him without all the trimmings, but for everyone else, it would be wise to take him with the excess before going without.