As the first show announcements rolled out, it seemed unclear what the very first public performance at the reopened Palace Theatre would be. It wasn’t a certainty that the first performer would be local, particularly with the room’s 2,800 capacity. Atmosphere, though, were a perfect choice for the first act to headline the stage: their local pedigree can’t be matched and they absolutely commanded the large stage. With a complement of talented support acts and DJs, the Palace’s official debut last night was one for the books.
As I found a seat up in the top balcony at the opening of the show, it was great to hear The Current’s own DJ Shannon Blowtorch cutting up on stage as First Ave’s production team got the last technical elements in place. After a handful of tunes, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman ambled out on stage, introduced himself to the “people from Minneapolis who don’t know who I am” and proudly introduced a theatre he has been pining to reopen since he was a City Council member in the late ’90s.
As the applause for Mayor Coleman died down, Lady Midnight stepped into the stage behind ethereal, hypnotic sounds provided by DJ Keezy. In her white gown, Lady Midnight implored the crowd to think of her as “your cosmic remedy, in a spaceship” and asked if we “wanted to go to space.” From there, Lady Midnight provided a mix of verbed-out mellow jams and bass heavy bangers that exposed Midnight’s prowess as a vocalist. Her presentation, complete with exaggerated theatrical moves, kept the energy up even on her slower tunes.
Half a dancehall remix later, deM atlaS stepped on stage with his stunning blend of humility and absolute charisma beaming as the opening notes of one of his MF deM tracks played. Slowed for a minute due to a promptly solved microphone issue, deM atlaS displayed his kinetic energy and strong singing voice and brought the energy level up a handful of clicks. DeM also provided tons of references and quotations from other artists within his songs, even mixing Nas and Cobain lyrics on one tune.
Keezy backed up deM as well, and their chemistry was palpable — full of perfectly synchronized beat drops and interactions. DeM opened his final song, “Watabout,” with a moving rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” As deM tackled the losses and struggles he’s already faced in his young life, he closed with triumphant energy that marked one of the high points of the whole concert.
Shannon Blowtorch returned briefly to throw on a couple tunes before Sims stepped up. Even in the Twin Cities, where Sims commands a large fan base, he knew that at this show he’d be introducing himself to a lot of the crowd. Backed by Ander Other and MAKR, and an athletic light show complete with onstage screen visuals, Sims quickly performed much of his new album, More than Ever, dispensing almost completely with on-stage banter in order to pack more songs into the set.
Onstage Sims said that it was the first time in his career he had played a show with Atmosphere. He seemed to take the opportunity very seriously and delivered a powerful performance that pulled no punches with the darker and more adventurous songs on his record, sheepishly confessing that it’s that side of him that ruined his potential romance with Taylor Swift. The front of the crowd rode the wave of emotions and Sims walked out with tons of new fans.
After the stage was set for Atmosphere a surprise guest walked out on stage. The comedian Hannibal Buress stepped out on stage and gave a heartfelt and personalized introduction to Atmosphere, saying he had been a fan since his college days, and he provided his credentials by referencing the early Atmosphere muse, Lucy Ford. After the sweet introduction, Slug, Ant, and Plain Ole Bill stepped out on stage to “Perfect,” a track from their most recent album, Fishing Blues.
Throughout the set the value of the two DJs showed up in the form of expansive half-time rearrangements of certain tunes, heavy bass, and bare moments where Ant’s trademark bombastic snares were muted to leave only the chordal instruments supporting Slug’s lyrics. Plain Ole Bill also shined with great cuts and atmospheric (forgive me, it is the correct word and not a pun) flourishes. Slug was visibly thankful to be back home after an extended tour supporting his most recent record. The warmth of the homecoming feeling was great, especially because it helped the brand new Palace Theatre already feel worn in and home-like.
Atmosphere’s set touched on every corner of their 20-year career, with plenty of blasts from the past and brand new tunes from Fishing Blues. Later, deM atlaS joined Atmosphere and their years of chemistry earned on the road were manifest to all.
Atmosphere’s pre-encore set closed with “Flicker,” Slug’s touching song written shortly after his friend and labelmate, Eyedea, passed away. As the audience slowly turned off their smart phone lights, Atmosphere delivered a powerful two song encore with “Sunshine” and “Always Coming Back To You.”
All in all, the newly renovated Palace Theatre already operated like a well-oiled machine, and the first night of talent set a high mark for the shows to follow.
DJ Shannon Blowtorch