“I feel like everyone here has been cooped up inside,” Kacey Musgraves told the crowd at St. Paul’s Palace Theatre on Saturday night. After a week of polar vortex-induced blistering temperatures, the St. Paul audience seemed eager to be out of their homes and shoulder-to-sholder with thousands of strangers for the sold-out show.
Georgia-based singer-songwriter Liza Anne opened the night with a high-energy set. While her earlier material leans towards acoustic instrumentation, her latest album, Fine But Dying, favors the growl of electric guitars. Mental health is at the forefront of the album’s themes, especially on tracks like “Paranoia” and “Panic Attack.” “This record gave me the peace of mind to be soft to myself,” Liza said. Throughout her set, she shared that softness with the audience, radiating her self-compassion and composure out to the crowd. She stomped her feet in rhythm and flung her red beret offstage in the throes of the music.
Even after Liza Anne left the stage, the energy in the room remained high between sets. A group of people standing near the stage sung happy birthday to the opener, whose birthday was the day after the show. While the Palace’s crew set the stage for Kacey Musgraves, the audience chanted the singer’s name.
Kacey Musgraves grew up in Texas and released her debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, in 2013. She honed her narrative lyricism and catchy melodic hooks on her first two albums, but she skyrocketed to national attention with her latest album, Golden Hour, which blends her country sound with new pop textures. The album pushes the envelope of what country can be, melding banjo and pedal steel with disco-inspired beats and vocal harmonizers. At the Palace, Musgraves fused the distinct elements of her sound into a cohesive performance.
Musgraves opened her performance with the well-earned gusto of an artist who has put out one of the most celebrated albums of 2018 (which earned her Album of the Year at the CMAs and a handful of Grammy nominations). Her band began a swelling instrumental introduction on an unlit stage. A burst of golden light revealed an outline of Musgraves as she strummed an acoustic guitar and began singing “Slow Burn.” The instruments onstage were arranged symmetrically, with three band members on each side. Two keyboards faced each other, with Musgraves standing in between them, all points converging in her silhouette.
While I expected to hear many tracks from Golden Hour, Musgraves didn’t just throw in a few — she played through every single song on the album. The audience created a choir of voices to accompany nearly each track, singing along faithfully with Musgraves.
In addition to Golden Hour songs like “Wonder Woman” and “Butterflies,” Musgraves included selections from her first two albums. “Even though it’s about where I’m from, I feel like it’s about your town also,” Musgraves said before performing “Merry Go ‘Round” from Same Trailer Different Park.
Halfway through her set, Musgraves’ band reconfigured into an intimate huddle at the front of the stage. They swapped out their electric instruments for acoustic ones, including upright bass, cello, and banjo. Musgraves introduced her six band members by sharing each of their home states and fun facts about them, including her bassist, whom Musgraves asserts is a “very talented woodworker.”
After lowering the energy with acoustic renditions of songs like “Mother” and “Oh What A World,” Musgraves and her band returned to their original positions and surprised the audience with a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Liza Anne returned onstage to take a verse and harmonize with Musgraves.
“I know that country music isn’t always the most inclusive of environments, and it’s cool to see that no one in here gives a s—t about that,” said Musgraves before inviting the audience to sing along with her on “Follow Your Arrow.” “Say what you feel, love who you love/ ‘Cause you just get so many trips ’round the sun,” the crowd sang with Musgraves.
Musgraves ended her set with two songs from Golden Hour, “Rainbow” and “High Horse.” While complete opposites in terms of energy and tone, this pairing neatly summed up the versatility that Musgraves demonstrated throughout the night. The soft piano accompaniment during “Rainbow” gave space for her voice to soar through the rafters of the Palace, each note rising and falling with precision and clarity. “High Horse” cantered along to the beat of disco-inspired keyboard plunks.
In just an hour and a half, Musgraves breezed through narrative country tunes, upbeat pop songs, and dreamy ballads. She sang about growing up in small-town Texas and feeling the warmth of a new relationship. Kacey Musgraves celebrates these distinctions rather than shying away from them, proving that she can be country and pop, write wistful songs and high-energy bops — all while inviting her listeners to dance along.