The Minnesota winter phenomenon was in full swing last night at The Palace Theatre in Saint Paul. The threat of a massive winter storm with the potential to turn into a blizzard would have most people hunkering down at home with a nice book to read but up here, we just call that another night in the Twin Cities during winter. As soon as my friends and I were dropped off by the Uber you could feel something magical in the air. As usual, I’m not quite sure how to put the feeling into words but it was enough to make me forget about the threat of any snow. That feeling was magnified as I stepped foot into the beautiful Palace Theatre. Not the most upbeat show I’ve ever been to, I was a bit shocked but also pleasantly surprised by the party-like vibe in the venue.
Kicking off the beautiful night was Helado Negro. Born Roberto Carlos Lange, this Florida born musician instantly had me in the palm of his hand. Joined by just two friends on stage, I was shocked by how much command he had of the stage and audience without asking for it. His music was unique and instantly grabbed me. A mix of jazzy hip-hop, soul, indie, and a bit of a world music influence, it was definitely something completely out of my wheelhouse but also something I instantly fell in love with. Even though I had never heard of Helado Negro prior to last night’s show (and I definitely wasn’t alone in that), I felt a sense of comfort from his music. Although definitely unique and unlike anything I had ever heard before, something about his music was so familiar and warm. Typically when I see an act like this I am struck by a feeling of intrigue but that feeling was replaced by a feeling of pure bliss. I may have been at last night’s show to see the headliner but I would have been more than content if the entire night would have just been a set from Helado Negro.
Headlining the busy Saturday night show was the one and only Beirut. Beirut has been around since 2006 and although I had heard their songs before, nothing really caught me. Fast forward to their Gallipoli album that just came out earlier this month and honestly everything changed for me. I don’t know if it’s because of where I’m at in my life right now (no longer angry at my parents and I seem to have finally gotten over my teenage angst) or if it’s just the pure stunning musicianship in the album but I finally got it. I could finally listen to a Beirut album, understand it, and enjoy the crap out of it. Once I listened to Gallipoli more times than I probably should have, I went back and realized that there really is genius in this group and I was kicking myself for not catching sooner. That being said, there’s always a time and place for a certain band or type of music in your life and apparently right now it’s Beirut’s time to shine.
I spent the first couple of songs in the photo pit and it was honestly hard to concentrate on what I was doing. Usually this happens because, when in a photo pit, you are literally just an arms length away from the performers and, well, you kind of feel like a rockstar but last night was because the music was truly just stunning. I’m sure I probably looked like an idiot standing there with my camera in my hands but my eyes glued to the stage and my jaw on the ground. I didn’t care. I was clearly in my happy place but it wasn’t until I got out into the crowd that I realized just how amazing this band and their set was.
There were no whizzing lights, no confetti cannons, no gang vocals to partake in– honestly it should have been the most boring show in the world but there was something in the air that had it feeling like one of the most lively songs I’ve been to in awhile. The beauty of the music mixed with the perfect stage lighting and the good friends by my side, seriously, everything was just perfect. Everything about the show was so understated but I couldn’t see Beirut performing any other way. I honestly don’t think vocalist/ mastermind (Beirut was originally a solo project) Zach Condon ever addressed the crowd other than thanking them at the bitter end of the over twenty song set and two song encore. I couldn’t tell you what songs they played due to them not introducing them and my unfamiliarity with the group but I can tell you that every song had a place in their set list and it was clearly well thought out.
Songs that made you want to clap to the beat while being captivated by the beautiful horns were followed by slower songs kicked off by a ukulele with a sound that just made you want to sway. The music was as diverse as the crowd. Typically I try to scan around me and get a feel for the demographic but that was nearly impossible to do last night. Young and old, rockers and indie kids, Beirut is one of those bands that refuses to be put into a genre box and also refuses to put their fans in a scene. The beauty behind that alone was absolutely stunning and beautiful.
As my friends and I walked out of the venue and onto the barren streets of Saint Paul, the snow started to fall. Dramatic, I know but it was like in the movies. Our beautiful night of beautiful music was capped off by walking outside into a beautiful winter wonderland. It was one of those nights where I was just left speechless and unbelievably happy.