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Many songs were sung at the Palace Theatre this past weekend about the challenges of change: "Last of My Kind," "24 Frames," "Cast Iron Skillet" and maybe the greatest sobriety anthem ever written, "Cover Me Up."

Even with some moderate modifications to his band and major changes in his personal life, though, the singer of those tunes, Jason Isbell, proved as resilient and reliable as ever on both Saturday and Sunday night in St. Paul. The instantly sold-out shows marked his first two-night stand in the Twin Cities after 23 years of regularly playing here — going back to when he joined the Drive-by Truckers at age 21.

Since starting his own band the 400 Unit in 2007, Isbell has racked up seven albums to his name, plus he still drops in a couple of his Truckers tunes most nights. He now has enough songs that fans want to hear, he could easily stretch out to three- or four-night stands with different set lists.

His Minnesota fans could not have asked for much better in the two offered this time around, though.

Both nights' set lists leaned heavily on material from last year's top-shelf album, "Weathervanes," which earned Isbell his fifth and sixth Grammy Awards last month. One of those wins was for best Americana song with "Cast Iron Skillet," a major highlight each night as he played it on acoustic guitar to a quietly captivated crowd.

"Don't wash the cast iron skillet / This town won't get no better, will it?," he sang, chronicling the sad saga of a woman disowned by her dad for loving a man "with smiling eyes and dark skin."

"She found love and it was simple as a weather vane / But her own family tried to kill it."

The South's resistance to change has been an ongoing theme in Isbell's music. He's also never shied away from addressing his own need to grow and wise up, which he may have done during both shows in another standout new tune, "Miles" — seemingly the nearest he got to addressing his recently announced divorce from former 400 Unit member Amanda Shires, who's also a renowned singer/songwriter.

"Wish it was as simple as somebody done somebody wrong," he sang. "There's miles between us, but boy, you should've seen us when we met."

Autobiographical or not, "Miles" definitely proved to be a showpiece for the new lineup of his band.

Multi-instrumentalist Will Johnson — a longtime Isbell cohort from the Texas band Centro-Matic — added oomph to it by playing a second set of drums alongside usual timekeeper Chad Gamble, while bassist Anna Butterss helped build it up into a stormy crescendo. Then Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden stretched out "Miles" into a stunning dueling guitar jam.

That was just one of several times each night Isbell and Vaden cut loose like they were Duane Allman and Dickey Betts in tighter jeans. Other thrilling guitar marathons came in two other new standouts, "King of Oklahoma" and "This Ain't It."

New material aside, Night 1′s set list featured more variety from throughout Isbell's discography, including the Truckers epic "Decoration Day" and semi-recent fare like "Overseas" and "Last of My Kind." Night 2 dug deeper into his breakthrough 2013 solo album "Southeastern," led by "Traveling Alone" and the disorderly "Super 8″ and culminating with "Flying Over Water" in the encore.

Despite a slightly hoarse voice and whatever real-life pain was spilling over into his most heart-beaten tunes — "Cover Me Up" sounded especially raw as each show's encore kick off — Isbell seemed in great shape and spirits. And he genuinely sounded happy to be back in the smaller Twin City.

"That other [city] is great, too, but I don't sleep on St. Paul," he said on Saturday with a wry grin. "And by that other one, I mean Duluth, where we'll be playing Tuesday night."

Don't worry, Minneapolis. Maybe he'll make it up to you when he comes around playing three-night stands.

[At press time, tickets were still available for Isbell and the 400 Unit's Duluth gig on Tuesday at DECC Symphony Hall via]