The Decemberists have taken crowd participation to a new, lower level.

Some bands stand motionless onstage while other, heavier acts, incite mosh pits or headbanging. But the Portland, Ore.-based Decemberists urge their audience to sit on the ground and be quiet.

For example, during the live performance of “The Chimbley Sweep” from the sextet’s third full-length release, Picaresque, singer/songwriter/guitarist Colin Meloy instructs fans to take a seat and relax while the band lays down and pretends to sleep.

“We’re not just going to stand there and stare at our shoes and sing our songs,” Meloy told Pollstar. “At the Pitchfork [Intonation Music Festival], we managed to get the entire crowd of 15,000 people to sit on the ground. Amazingly, people have been doing it.”

Manager Dawn Barger isn’t surprised. She mentioned another song where Meloy has the audience scream like they’re being chased by a whale.

“They’re so fun and they’re always doing crazy antics onstage,” Barger told Pollstar. “Colin is a genius at audience participation and making the crowd feel like they’re a part of what’s happening.”

She describes the Decemberists’ “die-hard” following as an eclectic mix of nerdy 15-year-old girls, e-lit majors, 30-something NPR listeners and the parents of those nerdy teens.

As a testament to their loyalty, Barger said fans donated more than $8,000 to the band after its gear was stolen at the start of the last tour.

“You don’t see audiences like that for many bands,” she said. “Colin and I were standing outside together after a show and a kid came over to say hi and get an autograph. Then, her mother came over as well and said, ‘I’ve never heard of your band … and I just love your music.’ It’s cool when kids and their parents can go to a concert together.”

The Decemberists derive their name from a group of 19th Century rebels in St. Petersburg, Russia. With a mixture of organ, violin, piano and accordion, the six-piece incorporates historical characters and literary references into its folky, yet upbeat sound.

From time to time, Meloy and bandmates Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, John Moen and Petra Haden have been known to dress up in theatrical costumes to spice up their music videos, press photos, gigs, and the cover of their newest album.

“I always enjoy seeing a band a little dressed up even if it’s just a jacket and tie; I think it looks pretty sharp,” Meloy said. “It delineates the audience from the performers.”

For the current leg of their North American tour

Flight of the Mistle Thrushes

agent Kevin French decided to strategically book back-to-back club dates in major cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Seattle.


French explained that when he first hooked up with the band two years ago, it was selling out venues like New York City’s 250-capacity Mercury Lounge. Now, it’s headlining two nights at NYC’s 1,400-seat Webster Hall.

“We’ve been progressing,” French told Pollstar. “We want our shows to be sold out so we’re taking the correct steps in going from one Mercury Lounge to two Mercury Lounges, from one Bowery to two Bowerys.”

For the next tour, French hopes to graduate the band into theatre-type settings.

The Decemberists are currently signed to Olympia, Wash.-based indie label Kill Rock Stars (KRS). With the release of their last album, the band completed its two-year contract with the label.

KRS Owner/CEO Slim Moon persistently courted the band after hearing its full-length debut, Castaways and Cutouts, and after seeing Meloy play a solo gig at a Northwest indie rock-swap.

“I was working the booth and my girlfriend came out and said, ‘You’ve got to check out this guy,'” Moon told Pollstar. “I didn’t want to move

I was feeling lazy

but she made me go check him out. She was right.”

Regarding tour support, Moon said KRS exercises market-targeted publicity for every tour date. The label also informs retailers and radio stations in each market the band visits, and offers targeted tour-specific retail marketing.

Since its March release, Picaresque has sold approximately 70,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Meloy and the gang will enter the studio in early 2006 to record their next album. With that, the band will decide whether it’s time to move to another, possibly bigger, label.

“We’re keeping our options open,” Meloy said. “We’re happy at the level we’re at. For a lot of us, this is where we ideally would have ended up. So anything beyond this would be icing on the cake.”

At this point, Barger’s main focus isn’t to sell hundreds of thousands of CDs right off the bat. She wants to build the band slowly and carefully by visiting markets regularly and highly publicizing the shows within those markets. She’s also got a few tricks up her sleeve for creative marketing ideas.

“We’re trying to keep it very organic and very smart,” Barger said. “Rather than make a goal of saying, ‘We’re going to sell 250,000 copies of this record,’ we’ve made a goal to try and keep expanding and evaluating opportunities.”