Everything was freaking awesome at the newly renovated Palace Theatre this weekend.
Re-opening its doors to the public for the first time since 1977, the venue shook off the cobwebs, showed off its new coat of paint, and stood as an encouraging beacon that will bring the community of music lovers together for decades to come.
To start out the night, progressive noise-rockers the Cloak Ox blanketed the room with their purposeful, inventive sound. Singer and guitarist Andrew Broder thanked Mayor Chris Coleman for preserving St. Paul as a “sanctuary city” that protects immigrants, and he dedicated his long-shelved signature tune “Pneumonia” to the band’s absent guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, whose father passed away this week. With substitute guitarist Jake Hansen on hand, the band’s monstrous freakout finale shook the dust from the rafters.
The room toned down a tad for the Cactus Blossoms. Building on the success of last year’s debut, You’re Dreaming, brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey evoked a Grand Ol’ Opry feel with their two-man harmonies and warmed up the full, shimmying general admission floor.
Then Mayor Coleman introduced the Jayhawks, who were met with immediate warmth and spirit. Singer/guitarist Gary Louris and the band illustrated their depth and camaraderie as they barreled through an two-hour-plus set that covered every era of their storied existence.
The Jayhawks found their groove right out of the gate with “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” inspiring the first of the night’s many sing-alongs. They pulled widely from their songbook to demonstrate the many shades of their style, with the celebrated Rainy Day Music supplying large portions of the set list, including drummer Tim O’Reagan’s beautiful “Tampa to Tulsa.”
Taken aback in admiration of the preserved walls, moldings, and fixtures, Louris acknowledged the honor of debuting the new room, exclaiming “This feels like we’re in Europe!”
After thanking the fans, some who’d come all the way from Prague, Louris gave props to the mayor, requesting that he waive some parking tickets, then invited him to the stage. An accomplished guitarist himself, Coleman kicked off a charged “Waiting for the Sun,” the sweet “Two Hearts,” and “Comeback Kids.”
The evening’s fun-loving, psychedelic vibe gave Louris plenty of opportunities to stretch out with some epic guitar-shredding. After past Jayhawks guitarist and Twin Cities’ staple Kraig Johnson joined the band onstage, the wall of sound grew even thicker on “Think About It” and the joyful “Big Star.” Then the show got downright cuddly, with the audience hitting the high notes that filled the glowing archways of the Palace in the massive chorus of “Blue.”
Coming back to the stage with touring Jayhawk John Jackson on mandolin and violin, Louris played a mini-set of favorites for an encore, evoking a campfire vibe. Then the rest of the band returned for a pair from the Smile era: the title track and the sweet “Baby Baby Baby.”
Johnson came out once more and moved over to bass, allowing for Louris and co-founder Marc Perlman to trade a series of wicked guitar leads. The rousing gang vocals and warm fuzzies finally reached a fever pitch with Golden Smog’s “Until You Came Along,” a triumphant wrap-up to a glorious night.
The Crowd: The Jayhawks have such a long history of entertaining Twin Cities fans that the show had an energy like that of a high school reunion. You were surrounded by people you may have not seen in awhile but who you’d likely run into at every past Jayhawks show you were at, and there was a thrill from celebrating the band’s music in a new venue.
Overheard in the Crowd: About Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: “He’s like the new R.T.!”
Critic’s Bias: I missed Atmosphere at the Palace the night before as I had spent that evening watching McDonald’s-themed cover band Mac Sabbath at First Avenue. Needless to say, the Jayhawks gig was a different scene.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
You Look so Young
Leaving the Monsters Behind
Stumbling through the Dark
Tampa to Tulsa
Lovers of the Sun
Waiting for the Sun
Take Me with You
Nothing Left to Borrow
Think About It
All the Right Reasons
Save it for a Rainy Day
I’d Run Away
Solo Acoustic Encore
Settled Down Like Rain
Full Band Encore
Baby Baby Baby
Until You Came Along