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The Decemberists’ Lit-Rock is a Perfect ‘Summersong’

Philadelphians’ had two opportunities in the last year to catch the Decemberists, but only at last night’s (July 15) show would you have seen the band of bookworms bumping up against Sean O’Loughlin and the Mann Festival Orchestra. At the Mann Center’s covered outdoor stage on one of Philly’s cooler nights, the Decemberists treated a mix of city hipsters and suburban families with picnic baskets to sonic reinterpretations from the band’s four albums. And dressed in their best Sunday suits, the band members themselves countered the seriousness of the orchestra, who weaved themes reminiscent of classic Hollywood melodramas around Meloy’s magical folk tales.

Surely the evening’s highlight was a performance of the entire Tain EP, a five-part song that is, lead singer Colin Meloy said, “Extremely, extremely loosely based on an Irish myth cycle.” Members switched instruments multiple times during this epic, with drummer John Moen playing a melodica, bassist Nate Query switching to an upright, and lead singer Meloy moving to the drums. As organist Jenny Conlee and guitarist Chris Funk pulled carnival sounds from their respective instruments, Moen hopped around stage like a faun. The Decemberists gave the orchestra a break to play Colbert fave “O Valencia,” and during the encore, Meloy came back to perform a new song, “Wonder,” on acoustic guitar, and was joined by the band for another new song, proving that these songs get their story across no matter how they’re staged.

We asked: The Decemberists are currently performing a slew of shows with an orchestra. What band or artist would you like to see perform with an orchestra?