After spending months crafting an intricate 17-part rock opera called The Hazards of Love in 2009, Portland, Ore.'s The Decemberists joked that they'd spend two weeks on the next album and record it in a barn. The barn part, at least, came true, as did the implied wish for simplicity. The King is Dead (Capitol) moves the band beyond its long-held obsession with the ornate British folk-rock of the late 1960s and early '70s, delivering instead a rootsy and straightforward sound that features substantial contributions from singer Gillian Welch and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. Though few would have predicted it, The King is Dead became No. 1 on the Billboard album chart immediately upon its release in January.
Ten years and six albums into the Decemberists' career, the band's live shows are spirited, loose and engaging. Singer/songwriter Colin Meloy's full-throated warble and hyper-literate wordplay may not be everyone's cup of tea, but his strong and memorable melodies place him squarely on the top tier of contemporary songwriters. The Decemberists' limited-edition Live at Bull Moose EP, recently released for Record Store Day 2011, reveals just how much the current touring band benefits from the presence of celebrated fiddle player and vocalist Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek fame.
Despite The Decemberists' recent success and a devoted national following, the band is scheduled to play the Fais Do-Do stage. It will be interesting to see how a mix of dedicated fans and the casually curious share space at the stage. Our advice? Get there early.