In the nearly two years since being reborn into a full-time concert venue, St. Paul's Palace Theatre has hosted little to no mainstream country acts. It's debatable if Saturday night's very sold-out concert changed that streak, even though it starred one of the biggest names in country music at the moment.
A heavy favorite to sweep the country categories at next weekend's Grammy Awards — and maybe take the top album of the year trophy, too — Kacey Musgraves came to town for a rather intimate show just a week before the big awards.
The 30-year-old Texas singer/songwriter was overdue for another local headlining appearance. She had been a go-to opening act for a wide range of arena tours in recent years, including shows ranging from fellow Nashville-branded acts Kenny Chesney, Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum to pop stars Katy Perry and Harry Styles.
As those latter two gigs suggest, Musgraves has been courting a pop crowd for many years, pretty much since her 2013 breakthrough album, "Same Trailer, Different Park." She went full-bore poppy on her latest record, though, putting cheery disco beats and breezy synthesizers alongside a dwindling amount of banjo and pedal-steel.
Saturday's performance reflected that crossover in more ways than just musical. The 2,600 fans didn't look too different from a typical, eclectic, urban Palace audience. And some of her songs' liberal, feminist, anti-homophobic messages weren't exactly typical Nashville fodder.
The 90-minute set was 80 percent comprised of songs from the new album, "Golden Hour," which she played in its entirety, though not in order.
Five of the new tunes kicked off the show, starting with an orange-light-bathed "Slow Burn" and peaking in energy with the electro-groovy "Lonely Weekend." All the while, the crowd sang along excitedly to each "Golden Hour" track, relishing Musgraves' proudly normal lines, such as, "Don't you know I'm only human? / If I let you down, I didn't mean to" (in the everyday-hero battle theme "Wonder Woman").
After canceling a Chicago concert earlier in the week because of weather, Musgraves seemed to understand the Twin Cities audience's enthusiasm on Saturday maybe wasn't entirely her doing.
"Nice to see you're all alive after that polar [expletive]," she cracked early in the set. "I feel like everybody here has been cooped up, and it's about to get weird."
The vibe turned even more fervent once she finally got around to playing an older tune, starting with the one that first earned her widespread attention. She introduced 2013's "Merry Go Round" as "a song about my little hometown, but I feel like it could be about your town, too."
With a tender-yet-tough voice strong enough to walk the line between pop and country, Musgraves also had a stellar six-piece band helping her seamlessly transition from "Merry Go Round" and another all-country ode to dysfunction, "Family Is Family," to the slicker pop sounds.
The band sometimes even blended the divergent influences into the same song. In "Golden Hour," the pedal-steel guitar fit in beautifully with the '70s soft-rock sheen. And in "Love Is a Wild Thing," they switched instruments and transitioned from a jamboree-style unplugged format to a full-on pop-rock jam without missing a beat.
Truth is, Musgraves has always had a mix of big-city attitude and bright-lights, Vegas-style glitz to go with her small-town charm. We were reminded of this near the end of Saturday's set when she played "Follow Your Arrow," a song that earned her favor with LGBT audiences early in her career.
"Country music isn't always the most inclusive environment," she said to introduce the be-yourself anthem, adding that she was glad to see most people in the audience don't care about that.
Some of Musgraves' more tried-and-true country fans may have felt justifiably let down by the full-on disco-party vibe late in the concert, which turned a little too showy and contrived as she paired her most novel hit "Velvet Elvis" with an excited take on Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Had a disco ball dropped from the ceiling at that point, it would have been redundant.
All the same, though, a neon dance club would feel as natural for a Musgraves concert as the Grand Ole Opry at this point in her fun and rather fascinating career.