It began like any birthday should: With an overly-large cake, a table of poppyseed cupcakes and a song. It wasn’t a celebration on behalf of Colin Meloy, but the last night in the Crystal Ballroom’s 100-year anniversary sweep. A century is no small feat, and the birthday MC had no trouble rattling off an exhaustive list of artists who’ve taken the stage, from Rudolph Valentino and Tina Turner to Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. He recalled more recent moments, too. Arcade Fire playing in the street below, Eddie Vedder taking the stage during the last proper Sleater-Kinney show, Isaac Brock’s onstage haircut during swaggering rendition of “Styrofoam Boats.” More fittingly, he recalled a then-unknown band called the Decemberists humbly playing to small crowd of 70 or 80 people in 2001.
Meloy is an easy guy to poke fun at. Bespectacled with large-rimmed glasses and dressed in red-and-blue flannel with a nice pair of dress shoes to match, he looks like every fifth Portlander. He wears his stubble proudly, and exudes the kind of hyper-literate persona that has characterized his brand of nerdy, quirky songs for more than a decade. The glass of red wine meticulously placed on the small table beside him as he took the stage following opener John Roderick didn’t help curb the stereotype.
Meloy’s nearly two-hour set was a lighthearted smattering of songs new and old, beginning with the title track from the the Decemberists’ 2009 rock opera, The Hazards of Love. Older songs abounded, including fan favorite “Crane Wife” and the Trimet-inspired “On the Bus Mall,” as did songs off the band’s last LP, 2011's The King is Dead. The apocalyptic "Calamity Song" and the foot-stomping “Rox in the Box,” a jaunty musing on 19th century coal mining in Butte, Montana, were about as rowdy as a solo Meloy show could ever feasibly get. Still, his quick-witted banter seemed to rouse the audience as much as—or perhaps more than—the music itself.
“Ever since I heard Damian Lillard referred to as the Colin Meloy of the Trail Blazers, my vanity has taken a keen interest. I’m now touched enough to keep tabs on my little friend,” Meloy said, before launching into a swinging rendition of the “The Sporting Life.” An obscure Kinks number (“Do You Remember Walter?”) soon followed, culled directly from his recent Colin Meloy Sings the Kinks tour EP, along with a track from Meloy’s pre-Decemberists days in the country-leaning Tarkio (“Tristan and Iseult”). He even shuddered with a bittersweet take of “Oceanside,” a song the Decemberists laid down on its debut EP mere days after performing in the hallway of a certain undisclosed McMenamins hotel.
The show, however, was just as much about looking forward as it was gazing back. To much applause, Meloy happily announced the Decemberists were currently at work in the studio before debuting two unreleased tracks from the upcoming record. The first seemingly dealt with the romanticism of love versus the reality, the second with the sexploits of someone named Philomena—a name Meloy ensured the audience was chosen prior to the recent Judi Dench film of the same name.