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Review and photos: The Decemberists and Gaelynn Lea fill the Palace Theatre with warmth and wit

Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. (Photos by Maddy Fox for MPR.)
Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. (Photos by Maddy Fox for MPR.)

by Sarah Eldred

April 07, 2018

It’s been a couple years since the Decemberists have graced Minnesota with their wit, humor, and beautifully written songs. But this weekend, the band's fans are filling the Palace Theatre excited to hear live renditions from the new album I’ll Be Your Girl as well as to bask in the familiar tales and Jenny Conlee accordion riffs from years past.

The opening artist, Gaelynn Lea, primed the audience with her violin prowess and distinctive vocals. Mentioning during her set that the Decemberists are her favorite band, she added a warm Minnesotan touch to the evening.

When it came time for the headliners, a huge tapestry featuring a skull with spiraling glowing eyes covered the back wall. The band entered stage left and took their places. For the first song, "Everything is Awful," frontman Colin Meloy commented on the "30 below zero" weather in April, which the crowd loved. It wouldn’t be a Decemberists show without Meloy’s quick wit and engaging banter, which he shared throughout the night.

Introducing us to I’ll Be Your Girl with three songs from that album, Meloy stopped and took a poll. “Raise your hand if you’re from Minneapolis. Raise your hand if you’re from St. Paul.” Meloy noted that there were more people from Minneapolis, but the St. Paul people were more vocal and more excitable — thus, possibly, St. Paul was "more dangerous."

Towards the end of "16 Military Wives," Meloy began a back-and-forth with the audience, instructing us to sing when he said, “you go” but not to sing when he said, “I go.” Even if he’s done this in a hundred other venues, he makes you feel as if he’s talking specially to you.

The setlist was heavy with songs from I’ll Be Your Girl and Picaresque. As an avid Decemberists listener, I’ll admit the new album's sonic departures were challenging the first time I listened. But by the third time, I was singing along and feeling just as good as when I put on The Crane Wife or The King is Dead. After hearing the new songs performed live last night, I’m convinced that this band can do it all, indie folk all the way to pop.

And that’s just what they did for the first encore. Gaelynn Lea came on stage and joined the Decemberists for the song "Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes," a song on which she's featured playing violin on the studio recording. Many critics said it was the most “Decemberists-like” song on the new album: it's a song about a tale from Slavic mythology with a lake-dwelling soul of a child who died unbaptized. This segued right into the band's cover of "Ben Franklin's Song" from Hamilton.

I feared that was the end, but the signature final song of a Decemberists show is still "The Mariner’s Revenge Song." It doesn’t matter how many times you've seen this dramatic and silly spectacle: it's something you could watch over and over. This time, and inflatable and three-dimensional whale was launched off the stage and surfed over the audience like a gigantic beach ball. Before the pageantry, Colin Meloy told the concertgoers that “it’s always good to play here in the Twin Cities. This is in earnest. When I was young, I thought Minneapolis was where all the music came from.”

The Decemberists return to the Palace Theatre tonight, and The Current will be streaming live video of the performance.

Decemberists setlist

Everything Is Awful

Your Ghost

Sucker’s Prayer

Make You Better

Cutting Stone

Leslie Anne Levine

The Bagman’s Gambit

Yankee Bayonet

Of Angels and Angles


Down by the Water


We All Die Young

16 Military Wives

Once in My Life

First encore

Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes

Ben Franklin's Song

I’ll Be Your Girl

Second encore


The Mariner’s Revenge Song

Gaelynn Lea


The Decemberists

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.