Atmosphere welcomes the Palace Theatre back to Minnesota


When the historic St. Paul venue, the Palace Theatre, announced that it was going to be opening its doors again after 32 years, it made perfect sense that Twin Cities’ hip hop pioneers Atmosphere would be playing opening night. To the disappointment of many locals, tickets sold out almost immediately and as the rest of the lineup was announced those who had scored the coveted tickets got even more excited. With two local DJs, two local rapper openers, and Atmosphere in the house, the name “Welcome to Minnesota” was rightfully given to the show and plastered all over posters, shirts and, of course, the Internet. Some last minute tickets were made available the day of the show, which created even more excitement and hype for the show.

Doors opened *and* music started at 8, but the line out the door lasted until well past 9:30. The first two openers were Shannon Blowtorch and Lady Midnight backed by DJ Keezy, both big names. Shannon Blowtorch can be seen most weekends tearing it up at a bar somewhere in Minneapolis or working with Go 95.3. Lady Midnight brought the dreamy and ethereal vocals and her energy kept the crowd high energy, even on her slower jams. Even though people were still filing in, heads were bobbing and shoulders were shimmying to the mix of local bangers and national favorites that were being blasted through the beautifully renewed venue.

Speaking of the Palace Theatre itself, wow. There were big blinking lights outside, chandeliers, and intricate details around every corner. Did the age of the Theatre show just a bit? Yes, but along with the old time charm came the space and convenience of a new venue. The merch was set up right by the front doors with ample space for people to line up and contemplate their purchases. There was enough security to keep things under control, but not so much that anyone was being constantly shoved past by a big bearded guy with a flashlight on a mission. The lights and projections were done beautifully and the sound was fantastic. St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman even made an appearance, thanking everyone for the support and radiating pride in his big project coming to fruition. The Palace Theatre definitely came back right way.

At 9:30,  deM atlaS hit the stage backed by DJ Keezy. Fresh off a 6 month tour with Atmosphere and Brother Ali, he was seemingly more on his game than ever before, and I’ve seen him quite a few times. The crowd full of Rhymesayers t shirts and Doomtree beanies paid attention to deM atlaS the moment he took the stage, throwing themselves into the hand waves and crowd participation he was asking for. There were some slow jams and there were many upbeat and emotionally charged songs. deM atlaS continuously thanked DJ Keezy, Atmosphere, and the crowd, in between dance moves and high jumps.

Next up was Sims, who’s a member of the Doomtree crew, another group of well-loved local legends. Even though he had played a show in L.A. less than 24 hours before, his energy was high and the messages of his music were clearly conveyed. This was Sims’ first time playing with Atmosphere. “It’s been a long time coming for me, I think, so thanks,” he graciously told crowd as his DJs Ander Other and Maker played some beats from his new album, “More Than Ever.” After playing a particularly experimental sounding song, Sims joked that Taylor Swift had heard that song and told him he was “too much,” and then proceeded to thank the Minnesota scene for allowing him to make whatever music he wants. He left the crowd cheering and singing along but antsy for the main act that was coming next.

As the final wires were being plugged in and mics were being checked before Atmosphere took the stage, a familiar but unexpected face took the stage. People in the crowd looked at each other confused and excited and collectively decided yes, this is indeed Chicago comedian Hannibal Buress standing in front of us right now. Buress was in town for Chris Rock’s show and chuckled as he explained to the crowd that “whenever a venue reopens after a long time it’s my obligation to randomly show up.”

He also, after accidentally greeting the crowd as Minneapolis instead of St. Paul, joked that “if the Twin Cities were real twins, we all know which one would be the weird, religious twin.” Buress then waved and walked off stage and the lights dimmed, letting the excited crowd know that the big moment had arrived.

After an action packed but seemingly very long wait, Atmosphere finally hit the stage at 11. Slug entered the stage in a puffy jacket with a fur hood, which made sense because it was damn cold outside. The jacket was soon shed for a hoodie, which eventually turned into a t shirt. “Do you like how this t shirt hugs my man curves?” Slug joked, which got many laughs and whistles from the crowd, and a few “take it off’s.”

Atmosphere kept the mood high during their entire 1.5 hour set, full of old songs and quite a few off of their new album. deM atlaS joined Slug on stage for their collaborative song “Next To You,” off of the new album “Fishing Blues.” The crowd was surprisingly respectful for how drunk many of them had gotten, and nearly everyone sang along to each  song on the set list. “I was gonna bring my wife onstage and embarrass her but we couldn’t find childcare, so I’m gonna sing to your wife.” Slug chucked, and then continued, “Oh shit, there’s a lot of dudes in here. I’m gonna sing to your… uh…. your roommate.” The night was full of jovial banter like this and it almost felt like a big hang out session, not a concert that everyone had paid to get into and had waited in lines to enter. As Atmosphere played their final songs, bubbles began to fall from the ceiling and a yellow pattern was projected onto the wall surrounding the stage. Slug threw his hands triumphantly in the air before leaving the stage for the evening, leaving a sense of pride and appreciation in the air as people began to file out of the theatre.

On the way out of the Palace Theatre, there was less of a “I’m wasted and I want to go home immediately” vibe than is usually found at concerts in the dead of winter in the Twin Cities. Instead, everyone was giggly and content, even while waiting 20 minutes for an Uber during surge pricing time. Most of the artists that had played that night were in the lobby signing records and taking photos and there was more local music playing at the restaurant next door loud enough for everyone to hear as they filed out and took pictures of the “sold out” Atmosphere marquee.

St. Paul’s Palace Theatre is exactly what the city needed, a big venue with awesome sound and even better staff. There are already quite a few shows lined up to be played there in the coming months, and I for one hope to be able to make it to as many as possible. Thank you, Twin Cities, and thank you Rhymesayers, for cultivating the kind of experience you never want to end. Welcome *back* to Minnesota, Palace Theatre.