After parking four blocks away from Park West in Chicago, my photographer and I speed-walked to the Colin Meloy show on Monday and arrived during the opening set. I stop by will call, slap on my photo pass, and eventually find my way to the front of the stage. Before her last song, indie singer/songwriter Laura Gibson commented on Colin Meloy and Decemberist fans’ better than average vocals, and joked that her set would help warm everyone up. My photographer may not have been the poster child of that sentiment, but regardless, the fans certainly had no shame when it came to interacting with the artists on stage. After Laura’s set, the dimming lights bred typical pre-show applause, and Colin Meloy, front man and lead singer of cult indie rock band The Decemberists, stepped up to the microphone and casually introduced himself. He then picked up one of four acoustic guitars on stage and started the set with catchy, but powerful Decemberist songs “Leslie Anne Levine” and “We Both Go Down Together.”
From Colin’s self-proclaimed worst song he’s ever written, “Dracula’s Daughter” (as featured on his latest solo album Colin Meloy Sings Live!) to “O Valencia,” every song stood out as a crowd pleaser, without one dull or somber moment at any point during the set. Even without a live band, Colin managed to engage the crowd and have fans vocally fill in the gaps. For instance, Colin stepped away from the microphone while the crowd humorously sang the high-pitched guitar solo in “The Perfect Crime No 2.” As a special treat, Colin brought Laura Gibson back on stage for a harmonized duet performance of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid.” Most impressive, by far, was Colin’s interactive finale, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” in which the members of the crowd sang falsetto verses, played drum rolls on the edge of the stage, and flailed their arms to impersonate a giant, angry whale. The story-based Decemberist songs couldn’t have worked better for a solo show— the crowd was as much a part of the show as Colin himself. Members of the audience had smiles on their faces the entire show, as Colin’s humor and knack for crowd rapport established an entertaining, but intimate mood.
And according to Laura Gibson, the “family feel” transcends the live show. After the conclusion of the body-swaying, foot-banging, Gogol Bordello-style epic, I caught Laura at the merchandise table for a quick interview. Contrary to what she might have expected, this being her biggest tour yet, Laura has found herself not only improving through her opening performances and on-stage duets with Colin, but she feels as though the tour bus is a home away from home. Laura explained, “With Colin, his fiancé Carson, and their two year old son Hank, it’s been so relaxed and very family-feeling. I’ve come away with this understanding of Colin not as a big rock star, but as a good dad. And they’ve been really nice.” A charming entertainer on stage and a good guy outside of his indie-rocker persona, Colin Meloy not only rocked Chicago, but he left us “Shit-towners,” as Colin facetiously mispronounced it on stage, feeling warm by the end of a chilly spring night.