The Decemberists Bring Their Unorthodox, Peaceable Kingdom to St. Paul

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Photo by Dylan Novacek

Last updated on June 23rd, 2024 at 02:40 pm

The Decemberists may be storytellers, but they’ve never followed a script. The quirky, folk-rock band from Portland, Oregon, stayed true to form at their May 19 concert at St. Paul’s Palace Theatre.

This is the second time the 24-year-old band has played at this venue, and both times its Beaux-Arts architectural style and old-timey vibe have lent a fitting backdrop.

The Ratboys. Photo by Dylan Novacek

Joining The Decemberists on the spring stretch of the tour is Ratboys, a quartet out of Chicago. In the cavernous theater, the indie rockers’ sound seemed dialed up a little too high and several audience members were seen wincing throughout their set. 

Regardless, the band’s energy and idiosyncratic style did the trick to warm up the crowd for the beloved headliners.

Julia Steiner of The Ratboys. Photo by Dylan Novacek

The acoustics were set up perfectly by the time The Decemberists took their turn. Lead vocalist Colin Meloy began with “Red Right Ankle,” which he performed simply with a guitar before eventually being joined by bandmate Jenny Conlee on accordion.

A few more members filtered onto the stage for “Don’t Go Into The Woods,” a track from their upcoming album As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again (out June 14), before the entire ensemble, rounded out by Chris Funk, Nate Query, and John Moen, played “Leslie Ann Levine.” 

Colin Meloy sings to the crowd at The Palace Theater. Photo by Dylan Novacek

Who kicks off a show with three somber acoustic tunes?

The Decemberists do. And we fans love them for it. After all, it’s fun when we don’t know what to expect.

The melancholy mood dissipated when the stage turned into a scene reminiscent of a children’s theater performance. As the seven musicians took their places, backlights alternating in various colors lit up the floral-and-mountain-printed fabric panels behind them, and adorable, lilting “interlude-style” music played. The Decemberists then suddenly jumped into “Don’t Carry It All” and fans came alive.

The Decemberists at The Palace Theater. Photo by Dylan Novacek

It was after this tune that Meloy first addressed the audience. He thanked us for coming and plugged the upcoming record’s release date before he and his crew played the new “Burial Ground.” 

We didn’t have to wait long for more of the witty banter the lead singer is known for, and it kept coming throughout the night. Meloy’s jokes and anecdotes are one of the best reasons to see The Decemberists live.

The Decemberists play in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Dylan Novacek

While playing guitar in “Burial Ground” he stood at the front of the stage, a foot up on a monitor, and mimed bodybuilder stances as if posing for photographs.

When it was over, he quipped, “The goal of that song is to [get] a bunch of smiling people shouting, ‘Contract malaria. Meet at the burial ground.’ Of course, no offense intended to anybody who has or is currently suffering from symptoms of malaria. I don’t mean to take that lightly. Does anybody here currently have malaria? We’re good? OK.”

Meloy orchestrated an audience singalong—a signature of The Decemberists’ live performances—during “The Soldiering Life.”

“Not to give you a pass or anything, but it’s alright if you don’t sing,” he said at the song’s conclusion. “I probably wouldn’t sing, either. I would probably be looking at me with annoyance that I was being made to sing. But then I would probably get caught up in the spirit of the moment and the shackles of my inhibitions would fall away and all of a sudden I would find myself wanting to be a part of this big communal choir that is the people at the Palace Theatre, and I would sing with gusto.”

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Photo by Dylan Novacek

During this repartee two clusters of fans, who must have been checking their phones for Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Denver Nuggets playoff updates, whooped when the home basketball team won Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference finals. Meloy seemed a bit startled but didn’t inquire about the outbursts.

Next up was the rousing, Latin-vibed “Oh No!” The new track proved to be a bright spot in the show. It was followed by “Long White Veil,” another fresh tune that I felt fell flat due to unoriginal and repetitive lyrics—both of which are unusual for The Decemberists.

Then the mood shifted again. 

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Photo by Dylan Novacek

“This song may be recognizable if you spent any time on the YMCA soccer program in Helena, Montana, in 1984. Trigger warning!” Meloy shouted before counting off in French, “Un, deux, un deux trois quatre” and kicking into “The Sporting Life.”

In press for the Peaceable Kingdom tour, it was stated that Lizzy Ellison of the band Cardioid was coming along for the ride. She was indeed there, donning pink-framed glasses, and Meloy set the scene for her big moment. 

“Gonna tune up a little bit here. Tuning is critical in this next song,” he said wittily. “In the meantime, I’d like you to imagine yourself in a very dense forest surrounded by misty trees. With the sound of a voice coming in the wind….” 

That initiated the pounding “The Queen’s Rebuke / The Crossing” from Hazards of Love. Ellison’s powerful vocals had the entire audience surging like viscous liquid along to the music, and it felt like the century-old theater’s walls were about to tumble down. 

Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Photo by Dylan Novacek

The rousing sentiment continued with “Severed,” followed by “16 Military Wives” and another Meloy-prompted audience singalong of “la dee dahs” that pitted the floor patrons against those in the balcony.

He tossed a few guitar picks into the crowd before admitting the act was “a vulgar rock-star thing to do,” and thanked everyone for welcoming them to our city.

“Raise your hand if you’re from St. Paul. Raise your hand if you’re from Minneapolis,” he asked, visually tallying the results. “Interesting, interesting. Don’t beat each other up. We should’ve done the la-dee-dah-off [in “16 Military Wives”] between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Ugh! Next time.”

Colin Meloy sings. Photo by Dylan Novacek

Finally, The Decemberists played “A Beginning Song” to (ironically?) wrap their performance before taking a short break.

The band reappeared to cheers for an encore and finished with “Joan in the Garden” from their upcoming record. Selecting this song to end a concert is another example of “The Decemberists being The Decemberists.” Not only is it 19-plus minutes long, but it also features an instrumental-noise section in the middle that seems to go on for days.

The Decemberists. Photo by Dylan Novacek

But a decision like this is just one of the many reasons the band is adored by its fans, and that we jump on tickets whenever it’s announced they’ll be coming our way. 

So, “next time,” you say, Colin Meloy? We’ll be there, excited for whatever you and your bandmates’ unconventional imaginations have dreamt up this time.


Red Right Ankle

Don’t Go to the Woods

Leslie Anne Levine

Don’t Carry It All

Burial Ground

The Crane Wife 1

The Soldiering Life

Oh No!

Long White Veil

The Sporting Life

The Queen’s Rebuke / The Crossing


16 Military Wives

A Beginning Song


Joan in the Garden

Written by Christy Johnson


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