Wednesday, 07 March 2007

ARTIST: The Decemberists – [DVD]
DATE: 03-07-07

REVIEW BY: Clara Druzgalski
ALBUM: The Decemberists: A Practical Handbook (DVD)
LABEL: Kill Rock Stars


The Decemberists are headed up. They recently signed to Capitol Records for their fourth studio album The Crane Wife, have been touring to promote it with sold out shows, and have somehow managed to get their name on the Coachella poster printed larger than Sonic Youth’s. I have no idea how that happened, but it just goes to show that their fan base, once a small following comprised of Merlot-drinking intellectuals and indie kids in tight jeans, is expanding beyond any one’s expectations. Although I did feel a bit bad for Sonic Youth.

The Decemberists’ latest release is their first DVD, The Decemberists: A Practical Handbook, coming out March 20th. Of course, from The Decemberists one should expect plenty of their usual quirkiness, and I must say, they do deliver. From Carson Ellis’ signature artwork to outtakes of Jenny Conlee playing accordion on a lonesome street corner, every detail is infused with their peculiar style. Included is a 2005 live performance from their Flight of the Mistle Thrushes Tour. The footage includes such fan favorites as “The Infanta,” “July, July!”, “The Engine Driver,” and a particularly theatrical version of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” On stage, Chris Funk dons a medieval-looking hat, Colin Meloy wears a wonderfully tacky red and white striped jacket, and childish props are thrown into the mix at every opportunity. Even in adding this touch of off-beat humor, The Decemberists never come off as contrived. Their stage presence and crowd control translates well to video and shows their ability to completely enamor an audience.

Fans aching for a comprehensive history on the band should be quite satisfied with the biographical documentary, Paris Before the War. All band members are interviewed, including ex-drummer Rachel Blumberg (the current M. Ward drummer) and ex-violinist Petra Haden (who toured with Foo Fighters after leaving the group). Beginning with Colin Meloy’s pre-Decemberists band Tarkio, every aspect that led to the creation of the Decemberists is touched upon. Footage from the Picaresque sessions in a church-turned-recording studio adds undeniable charm as well as behind-the-scenes insight into how the members complement each other during the recording process.

The rest of the DVD is comprised of clever music videos for “The Bachelor and The Bride,” “16 Military Wives,” “The Soldiering Life,” “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” and “The Tain, Pts. I-V.” Although each video carries its own weight, the two most notable are “The Tain” and “The Bachelor and The Bride”, both directed by Andy Smetanka. The animated style of these two videos manages to perfectly capture The Decemberists’ darker side through black elongated figures and contrasting colors. In general, the videos follow a story line that is always out to revive the romance of the past. Stylistically, they favor the jerky movements associated with early cinema.

The Decemberists: A Practical Handbook, includes everything that fans are hoping for. I suppose the only thing left to complete your Decemberists evening will be a nice glass of wine and a dictionary to look up all those antiquated words you never bothered to learn until now.

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