Yesterday’s Marian Hill show at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul tallies my second time seeing the duo. Anne and I caught them the first time in October of 2016 at First Avenue. That night had also introduced us to underground pop trio SHAED, who have since become a low-key favorite of ours. Their carbonated brand of synth-pop backed by lead singer Chelsea’s very competent vocals seemed to please the masses. No small feat being the second opening band.
The two of us had been in agreement that night; caps-locked, misspelled name aside, SHAED had upstaged the main act to a considerable degree. Marian Hill had performed their songs as expected but never seemed to really leave the launchpad that night.
Earlier this year, I’d found out that Marian Hill was playing at the Palace Theatre with Michl—an enigmatic singer with a quavering falsetto and melancholy pop instrumentation who I’d followed for some time.
While Marian Hill had been a fun enough act the first time, I was most eager to see Michl on this ticket. Michl is, via his own proclamation, from California, and hadn’t appeared to put on many performances anywhere near Minnesota—at least, not since I started following him around the time of the release of his 2016 self-titled EP.
I’d missed out on seeing him when he supported Mura Masa on his tour (which, ironically, also happened in October 2016) so I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
While I quite enjoyed his performance at the Palace Theatre last night, Michl is, apparently, more underground than I was expecting; the crowd was lackluster in both numbers and overall energy. Michl’s music is admittedly more downtempo and introspective than Marian Hill’s, but there’s a sort of late-night darkness in both artists’ music that I thought would be more conducive to the Marian Hill crowd.
To be fair, Michl has a stoic and minimalist stage presence that might have inhibited some crowd enthusiasm. He simply stands in front of his keyboard with lights behind him, face obscured in shadow by a floppy dad hat. None of this bothered me in the slightest, personally; it was very much in the realm of what I was expecting from the tone of his music and persona.
Unsurprisingly, the crowd multiplied and became much more energized when Marian Hill began their set. They’re a more flamboyant act for sure, with singer Samantha Gongol prancing around the stage like a jubilant pixie fresh out the exit of the local BDSM costume shop. And it’s worth mentioning that the performance was, by and large, much more exciting and fun than the previous one at First Avenue.
The duo is promoting their newest release, the aptly-titled Unusual, a release that keeps Marian Hill well within their lane, but is saturated with all kinds of quirky distortion, strangely-pitched vocals, and even a welcome saxophone cameo. Perhaps adopting this theme of strangeness—or just a theme at all—is what added something extra this time. I get the impression that they’re trying to adopt a slightly saucier, sultry attitude and aesthetic. Not a bad thing, in my opinion, as I’ve always sort of felt they lacked personality in general.
I don’t have any specific memories of any stand-out tracks from the duo, but it was an enjoyable performance filled with a nice balance between new album cuts and older singles. And, most interestingly, they got tons of mileage out of the resident sax-player. That dude was a crowd favorite; he even took the place of Gongol for a few moments, holding no reservations about keeping the crowd energy up.
As far as Michl, with some luck, perhaps he’ll headline his own tour someday and I can be surrounded by like-minded people who just get it.