Kacey Musgraves warms up a chilly night with engaging performance at Xcel Energy Center

·3 min read

Jan. 20—It seemed like an odd decision when country crossover star Kacey Musgraves announced she was kicking off her first arena tour in Minnesota, in the middle of January. And the tour is in support of her fifth album "Star-Crossed," which takes a stark, brutally honest look at her 2020 divorce from fellow singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly.

Who wants to go out on a bitterly cold Wednesday night to listen to a bunch of sad songs about divorce? More than 9,000 people did at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, and they gave the 33-year-old Texas native one of the warmest receptions I've seen at a concert in years.

Musgraves really leaned into the whole "Star-Crossed" theme, starting with playing songs from the "Romeo + Juliet" soundtrack over the loudspeakers before she took the stage. She opened with the first three tracks from the new record and the lyrics from the title track made it clear what was to come: "Let me set the scene/Two lovers ripped right at the seams/They woke up from the perfect dream/And then the darkness came." Oh, and she sang that song with a large metal heart of fire behind her.

Not to say it was all doom and gloom, as Musgraves' nimble band injected real energy into the songs and found ways to amplify the hooks. And while she seemed a bit off at points — opening night jitters, maybe? — Musgraves also let her winning personality shine through. The songs may have been serious, but she kept her own mood light, telling the crowd "I made a really depressing album, sorry about that ... I think the next one might be happier, but tonight we can be sad together."

The first half of her set focused on "Star-Crossed" and its much-sunnier predecessor, 2018's "Golden Hour," which won four Grammy Awards, including album of the year, and landed at 270 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Musgraves began her career nearly a decade ago with a quirky take on classic country, but her recent work exists somewhere between spaced-out pop and alt-folk.

As such, her selections from the two albums made it sound like they all came from the same massive writing session, even if they clearly didn't. Her gentle vocals (which were too low in the mix for sure) almost forced listeners to lean in more, even if the crowd was already highly engaged.

Later in the show, Musgraves jumped back to her debut album for an acoustic "Merry Go Round," followed by a folk-inspired cover of TLC's classic "No Scrubs." Musgraves also turned the new "There Is a Light" into something akin to a Coldplay anthem. It sounded terrific.

Despite the brutal chill outside and the melancholy lyrics, Musgraves turned in a show that felt truly special. I get a feeling she's going to settle in just fine as a newly crowned arena performer.