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Feels like December: Shortly, The Decemberists take Milwaukee

Photo by Adam Miszewski

Photo by Adam Miszewski

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The soundtrack to my sophomore year of high school was mostly comprised of three bands: Bon Iver, The Avett Brothers and The Decemberists. It only seems fitting that I’d be capping off my sophomore year of college by making The Decemberists my first concert experience.

When people ask me to rattle off some of my favorite artists, there’s one band that typically surprises them. After name-dropping some of my top picks, such as Frank Ocean, Kanye and Sorority Noise, people tend to be surprised when I say that my favorite band is The Decemberists, the shanty-inspired, history-obsessed, indie rock band from Portland, Oregon.

It’s hard to describe The Decemberists’ style. From upbeat pop songs to conceptual albums about Japanese folklore, they’re definitely an assortment of different musical stylings and genres. The band’s seemingly endless use of unorthodox instruments (I never thought an accordion would give me goosebumps) is only boosted by the powerfully unique voice of frontman Colin Meloy.

Before I talk about their wonderful performance, I feel I would be doing everyone a disservice if I failed to mention the captivating performance of opener Shortly.

Coming up Shortly 

Going into the concert, I had never heard of Shortly before. Coming out of the concert, I had all of her released music downloaded on my phone by the time I got back to campus.

Shortly absolutely blew me away. Besides an electric guitar, a loop pedal, and a childhood friend who would occasionally supplement her vocals with some complimentary harmonies, Shortly was reliant solely on her voice and lyricism to carry her performance in a crowd full of strangers. And that’s all she needed.

Shortly’s humble and haunting performance may have only been 20 minutes long, but it left a lasting impression. Finding herself coming to terms with her self-destructive habits and disillusioned by Catholicism, Shortly is somehow able to turn your harbored angst into a cathartic purge. With a deep guitar melody and soft, gentle vocals, Shortly beautifully lulls you into the most personal and intimate musical dialogue you’ve ever experienced. Shortly doesn’t indulge in the sadness and angst though, rather using it to propel herself into a self-reflective state, allowing her (and us) to find delightful optimism in the shadows of sorrow.

With only one song on Spotify and two available on Bandcamp, I encourage all of you to be on the lookout for Shortly.

Don’t Carry It All

If Shortly is a lonely high school night alone in your room, then The Decemberists are a late summer’s car ride with the windows down.

From the opening chords of “Everything Is Awful,” I knew I was in for a roller coaster of pure joy and excitement. Performing the best hits off their latest album “I’ll Be Your Girl,” as well as some of their finest singles off previous projects, The Decemberists were able to mix their ever-maturing style seamlessly. Where tracks such as “Once In My Life” and “Sucker’s Prayer” are more subdued and tender on their album, Meloy and the rest of the band hold nothing back, opting to accompany these fan-favorites with boastful instrumentation, flashy lights and the most enthusiastic accordion player you’ve ever heard (sorry, I really can’t get enough of that accordion).

Photo by Adam Miszewski

While their previous concert tours have been notorious for eclectic and flashy reenactments of historical events or pirate battles, The Decemberists refrain from gimmicks and allow their music to take center stage on this one, strengthening the merits of their songwriting and composing. Watching the concert, I didn’t feel like I was watching a band perform, but rather engaging in a celebration. Their energetic and passionate performance had everyone in the theater up and moving at one point or another (even those of us stuck on the second-floor mezzanine).

Even if The Decemberists don’t seem like your kind of band, I implore you to give them a listen. From earlier songs such as “This Is Why We Fight” and “Don’t Carry It All,” to their more recent works such as “We All Die Young” and “Starwatcher,” The Decemberists bring an unparalleled energy and individualism to their music. I was thankful not only to see my favorite band in concert, but to experience their unique euphoria with a theater full of equally-appreciative fans. Seeing The Decemberists in concert was a musical experience I won’t soon forget.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Feels like December: Shortly, The Decemberists take Milwaukee”

  1. Michael C on April 13th, 2018 11:37 am

    Listing two songs off their 2011 album hardly qualifies as “earlier songs” :p they have a wholeee lot more albums!

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