Let’s start by saying – if you haven’t been to a show at the newly renovated Palace Theater in St. Paul yet, move that to the top of your must-see venues in the Twin Cities. The renovations that took place on the century-old Palace Theater unearthed a delightful charm. Originally opened in 1916 as a vaudeville house the Palace has seen a slew of changes over the decades. The old-meets-new appeal of the swooping stage and gritty exposed concrete coupled with a killer lights & sound system is the perfect setting for any evening of music. The Instagramable charm of the Palace has quickly made this venue a local favorite. Furthermore, this theater has filled a long-felt void in the Twin Cities concert venue list. With a capacity of 2,800 it’s the sweet spot between First Avenue and the Xcel Energy Center and Target Centers of the world.
This week the Palace Theater played host to Austin-based Gary Clark Jr. for two (highly sold-out) evenings of music. St. Paul was just one of many, many dates on his massive summer tour. Clark was supported at the Palace by fellow Austin-based singer/songwriter Jackie Venson. The staff here at Twin Cities Media made our way across the river to St. Paul for night two. There was no shortage of energy and hype felt on night two of Gary Clark Jr. at the Palace. After a quick Instagram (or five), fans made their way into the Palace to bask in the glory of Austin musical royalty.
Opening up the evening was perhaps the least “opener” opener on a lineup. Jackie Venson took the stage sharply at 8:00 pm and instantly took command of the room with her infectious energy. Venson had a presence and charisma that can only be described as mesmerizing. Taking center stage with electric guitar in hand, she was supported by bassist/vocalist Alán Uribe and drummer Rodney Hyder. Venson’s band was almost as captivating as the frontwoman herself. Drummer Rodney Hyder got his start at the Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired in Austin over 30-years ago, where he formed the rhythm-and-blues band Blue Mist with fellow visually impaired classmates. Talk about some serious muscle memory from Hyder – it was inspiring to say the least to watch Hyder play the drums with such sangfroid. The ease of his playing was coupled with a sense of conviction and soulfulness that was felt from the entire Venson band. From Venson’s incredibly dynamic and technically precise guitar playing, to her heartfelt vocals reminiscent of Joss Stone or Amy Winehouse. Out of Venson flowed poetic lyrics which seemed to overflow from the deepest most visceral of places. Oh, and not to mention Venson just looked like she was having a hell of a good time. “Thank you Twin Cities! I’m not going to say the name of the cities. I said the wrong city last night. St. Paul? Yeah – thank you St. Paul!” Venson joked. Venson’s set was 45-minutes of pure, genre bending goodness. She commanded the room with true aplomb. If you missed her set at the Palace – fear not, she returns to St. Paul this fall at the Turf Club!
Thanks to Venson’s knock-out set, the room was plenty warm by the time Gary Clark Jr. took the stage at 9:00 pm. The 6’4 Texan virtuoso guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, dressed in his signature look (head-to-toe black, thick brimmed hat, and boots) took to a dimly lit-stage with a quiet confidence. The effortlessly cool vibe that radiates from Clark is enough to make the hippest of Minneapolis hipsters quake with envy in their Buffalo Exchange boots. Honestly, if any of us are ever a fraction as cool as Clark – let’s just call that a win. There’s an undeniable no-nonsense charm to Clark (and impeccable fashion sense is only the start). He’s back-to-basics, kick-ass, guitar-driven rock n’ roll. In this age of auto-tune, YouTube star, frat basement EDM bullshit (eh-hem Chainsmokers), Clark is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. Looking around the Palace Theater at the diversity of the crowd – from age to coolness of outfit, it’s painfully obvious the mass appeal of Clark. From 18-80, my photographer and I joked, there truly was a smattering of fans at the Palace on Friday night to watch the electrifying Clark.
Clark played through his set like the true showman he is. A man of few words, Clark didn’t say too much in between songs, but honestly when you can play the guitar like Clark, do you need to say much? When Clark did indulge the crowd in some banter, it was greeted by massive cheers usually only heard during an encore. There was no semblance of typical Minnesota-stoicness felt at the Palace thanks to Clark’s seemingly magical ability to switch from shredding to crooning and everything in between. The wings of Clark’s talent spread wide as he seamlessly blends elements of rock, rhythm & blues, R&B, funk, jazz and more. The only thing that rivals Clark’s intoxicating guitar playing his dynamics vocals which are simultaneously gritty and buttery smooth. As the girl next to me put it, “this is possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.”
Night two with Gary Clark Jr. at the Palace Theater was truly food for the soul. Like a perfect Old Fashioned, Clark’s tunes go down easy and feel damn good. It was a reminder that good music still exists if we just shut up and listen.
Set List: Catfish Blues / Nextdoor Neighbor Blues / Ain’t Messin’ Around / When My Train Pulls In / Our Love / Cold Blooded / BYOB / Bright Lights / Travis Country / Grinder / Please Come Home / You Saved Me / Healing / Numb / Shake