Decemberists stay the course 

"Prog folk" isn’t exactly a familiar genre, but what else do you call rock music packed with "old-time" instrumentation, obscure literary references, brave musical choices and period costuming? Whether or not their music has its own aisle at the store, Portland rockers the Decemberists, who play the Warfield today and Thursday, are pioneering the sound in a big way.

Known for lengthy ballads, storytelling through songwriting and a lyrical vocabulary that rivals Melville in its verbosity, the Decemberists are one of the most satisfying and pretentious bands on the pop culture radar.

"I don’t feel like we necessarily got [our signature sound] from anybody, but sometimes those kinds of things are bubbling up and you don’t really know where it’s coming from, do you know what I mean?" the band’s bass player, Nate Query says.

Singer-songwriter Colin Meloy’s idea was to use stand-up bass instead of electric bass and do something a little different, Query says. When he met Jenny Conlee, at first he had her play only accordion, even though she’s an amazing piano player.

In the music industry, where experimentation is often neglected in favor of marketable artists, the Decemberists stick out. Yet what they’re doing has been wildly successful. With 2006’s "The Crane Wife," the band’s fourth full-length, first major-label record, the Decemberists are reaching a wider audience than ever.

"We were all pretty skepticalof major labels and of the fear that you sort of lose control or that you have to change something to please them," Query says. "But when we started talking to labels, Capitol Records really stood out as being really excited about what we were doing for its own sake — not for its potential to be more mainstream."

"The Crane Wife" is anything but compromising, with six tracks that clock in at more than five minutes.

"There’s been little or no backlash from our fans and from people in the indie world," Query says of the move to Capitol. "And part of that is because bands like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and even Elliott Smith and the Shins, have shown that you can bring this music to the mainstream, where you’re basically bringing the mainstream to you, and not the other way around."

The Decemberists

Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today and Thursday

Tickets: $26.50

Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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