"I was sort of always under the impression that these things were done while everybody was just trying to work," The Decemberists' Colin Meloy says a little ways into this Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR Music offices. "I kind of like the romance of that."
The next time I'm writing on deadline while someone tunes a pipe organ seven feet away, I'll remind myself of the romance involved, but Meloy was making a different point: He wasn't expecting to be staring into dozens, if not hundreds, of rapt faces. But, setting aside the fact that his band has about a zillion hardcore fans — and that NPR headquarters are essentially a giant petri dish in which to find the highest possible concentration of Decemberists fandom — his isn't exactly a voice that's going to blend softly into the hum of the printer. For all his brainy wordplay, Meloy has become a commanding frontman.
After The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists' 2009 folk opera, I'll admit that I'd never fully appreciated the humbler rewards of this year's The King Is Dead: It's a much more straightforward collection of hooky folk-rock songs, without its predecessor's formidable cast of doomed lovers and eager guest stars. But this breezy little three-song showcase demonstrates that it shouldn't be dismissed, either. Backed by two brilliant but subtle players — Chris Funk and Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins — Meloy lets these songs sparkle for themselves. If, like me, you let The King Is Dead fade from memory too soon, you'll know what to listen to when this session is over.