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Friday, August 2, 2024 - 7:30 PM

Mount Baker Theatre Presents

The Decemberists

A Peaceable Kingdom North American Tour 2024 with special guest RATBOYS

The Decemberists Kick Off MBT’s 2024-2025 Season

By the time The Decemberists finished touring behind 2018’s I’ll Be Your Girl, Colin Meloy’s band of nearly two decades no longer defined his entire creative life. Since the start, Meloy had enjoyed side-projects, of course, from a string of beloved solo cover records to several successful books, especially the Wildwood series alongside his wife, the illustrator Carson Ellis. What’s more, by tour’s end in Germany during the waning weeks of 2018, Meloy had become overwhelmed by the new material, its collective weight. Understandably so: That aggressive record had been written amid the wanton cruelty of the 2016 presidential election. Every night, Meloy had to relive real outrage on stage, an especially enervating prospect for a songwriter who loved being home, chasing the tails of his interests through reading and writing. After the pandemic sidelined the band, Meloy ventured into a spate of new literary, film, and theatrical projects, even launching his popular newsletter, Colin Meloy’s Machine Shop. As these other avenues proliferated, his enthusiasm, at least temporarily, flowed toward them rather than the band he’d led for nearly two decades. Was he drifting from that longsteadfast core of his creative life?

Not at all, turns out: As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is not only the longest Decemberists album to date (and their first intentional, proper double-LP, split into four thematic sides, no less) but also their most empathetic and accessible, its 13 songs like semaphores of mutual recognition for our fraught times and faint hopes. The existential slog and capitalist vexation of “The Reapers,” the opiated delusion and jumbled jingoism of “America Made Me,” the guileless tenderness and absolute surrender of “All I Want Is You”: As It Ever Was is the redemptive testament of a band finding new communal hymns by revisiting several old modes at once. This, Meloy will tell you proudly, is the best Decemberists albums—perhaps even the ultimate realization of 22 years of work. As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again rings with the urgency and ardor of right now, maybe more than ever before.

Again, to be clear, Meloy wasn’t idling when he wasn’t writing much for The Decemberists. To wit, the animated adaptation of his first Wildwood book needed songs, leading him to respond to interpretations of his own words with more music. A playwright also asked him to score a theater project that shall not yet be named, prompting him to compose to specific directions. These dual jobs, where each song came circumscribed with specific functions, pulled Meloy’s barriers and worries down, giving him permission to make music without worrying about whether or not it fit a future for The Decemberists he could not yet imagine. He began to write with the band in mind again, film and theater fueling a return to the band’s early narrative work. Several songs, like the inquisitive “The Reapers” or the irrepressible “Oh No!,” led Meloy to revisit what he once assumed were notebook discards. A record began to take shape.

In February 2023, the band finally reconvened at the Portland studio of Tucker Martine, the steadfast producer who had helmed every Decemberists album (I’ll Be Your Girl excepted) since 2006’s The Crane Wife. They were simply renting the space while Martine was away, hoping to make much of the record themselves. But after a week, Meloy was over it—or, properly, maybe himself?—again, his own questions about his abilities and aspirations as a leader of a band cutting into the foreground. The Decemberists abandoned the sessions.

Six months later, Martine and Meloy rendezvoused again, sealing themselves in the studio for two weeks of work without any other input. Perhaps for the first time in his career, Meloy realized just how valuable Martine, as a sympathetic producer at large, had been to the very development of The Decemberists—a neutral sounding board devoted only to the song, the album, the band. They sorted through the demos, captured the core of the best songs, sketched out where they might go next, and brought the band back in, along with pals like The Shins’ James Mercer and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills. At last, The Decemberists were ready to record an album that Meloy often doubted would be made at all. In spectacularly short order, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again was done, its fitful genesis culminating in a rush of full-band enthusiasm.

The first dozen songs are punchy, pithy gems all, reflections on mortality and loneliness, longing and cynicism, expectation and unease. The band animates them brilliantly, pushing out and pulling in at the perfect moments. John Moen practically dances beneath the jangle of opener “Burial Ground,” breathing the life into this song about spiraling toward the end. Jenny Conlee’s barrelhouse piano and Chris Funk’s sidewinding guitar load requisite rebellion into “Born to the Morning,” a rollicking take on how we become who we are. Inspired by John Prine and a 16th-century British diplomat who “just had a name that needed to be sung,” as Meloy remembers, “William Fitzwilliam” is a quixotic and gorgeous country moan, all its anachronisms lining the path of an anthem for pushing on. The Decemberists reckon with the greatest inevitability during horn-lined dirge “The Black Maria” and with being left behind to deal with what comes after on “Long White Veil,” a romantic ghost story that shimmers behind pedal steel in spite of the specter. Here are The Decemberists, coiled and concise, springing back to action.

These 12 songs alone would constitute a dazzling Decemberists album, rich with woe and love, anxiety and honesty. But a keening little choir and arid electric guitar invoke “Joan in the Garden,” the band’s first full-on prog escapade since Hazards of Love and their longest song yet. Inspired by Joan of Arc’s hallucinatory visitation by angels, as depicted in Jules Bastien-Lepage’s famed oversized painting, the song both documents that scene and wonders aloud how to capture faithfully something so profound as revelation, how to harness the divine in something so simple as a song, no matter how many twists and turns it takes across 19 minutes. With funereal bells and church organ, scrambled samples and odyssean synthesizers, plus a bassline so propulsive Nate Query actually studied Iron Maiden videos in the studio, “Joan in the Garden” feels like Emperor going the distance or the Incredible String Band grabbing hold of electric wires and never letting go. Though rooted in doubt, much like the album it ends, “Joan in the Garden” ultimately lands as a celebration of music’s ability to convey valence and ambiguity, to frame an endlessly complicated story in instantly compelling terms. In many ways, As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again feels like an aptly titled renewal for The Decemberists, realized by returning to familiar routes of creation with the everupdating perspective of now. These songs share short tales or occupy a full side. They are produced by Martine and rendered by a band with a true sense of purpose and meaning. The Decemberists have been here before, but they’ve rarely if ever felt so directed and focused, so able to condense some bit of truth into a few compulsive verses. As It Ever Was, So It Will Be Again is the first full-length release on YABB Records, the band’s own label, after a run of nearly two decades with Capitol. As they were once, here are the Decemberists again, now an independent band empowered by singing stories that sound instantly familiar and convey some bit of hard-won wisdom.

Starting at $69.75*†
  • MBT Main Stage
Running Time:
Approx 3 hours with a 25-minute intermission