St. Vincent | Cate Le Bon Old Rock House October 6, 2011
St. Vincent songs do not politely proceed from verse to chorus. They circle, predatory and lithe. Annie Clark's astral voice folds pleasant-sounding words into sinister sentiments, and her guitar whips like a fat coil of cut live wire showering sparks across time signatures that often seem to just read ????.
Such tightly bound constructions can lose their sharp edges outside the controlled confines of the studio. Not here. Hanging around the spacious patio after the show, I heard reactions ranging from "great" to "best show of the year."
St. Vincent brought its own light show. Beams shone from the floor across Clark's frame, illuminating her striking features and projecting each of her many expressions all the way to the back of the cavernous venue. She stares, shocked, and snarls and smirks and beams, always in step with the schizophrenic music she's making. And the experience, watching and listening to all this, is exhilarating. Few crowds I have been a part of have seemed so in awe of what was happening before them.
That's how you have to experience this music: totally or not at all. There are precious few easy grooves to settle into, no steady structures to keep a backdrop. It's a superzoom close-up of a car wreck smash cut to a pristine National Park postcard. A friend told me she has heard Clark say that she starts with the most minute details and builds the song outward from there. It must be true - those tiny things, the guitar licks that seem of no more magnitude than a hiccup, are what give all those crazy stylistic jumps their cohesive impact. If you miss the details, it starts to just sound like a confusing mess.
Clark is nobody's doe-eyed sap. She is acutely aware of the effect both she and her music have on her audience, and her manipulation of those expectations has always been one of her most rewarding aspects. She has said that her solo debut, Marry Me, was named for the Arrested Development reference. Fans will recognize the significance: What, was that distracting?
The set was big on material from her new, fantastic third album Strange Mercy. But the final song of the encore was reserved for "Your Lips Are Red" from Marry Me. It's among the more dramatic juxtapositions of heavy and light in her catalogue, and live it was mesmerizing: A full-blown hulker, Clark dropping her head and guitar and scraping out that riff, even more muscular than on record, sneering those lines, "My. Face. Is. Drawn. My. Face. Is. Drawn. On. With. This. Num. Ber. Two. Pen. Cil." And then, somehow in step, it opens, the dam bursts into the sort of daydream she used to help paint with Sufjan Stevens, and much the same words come floating out into a gasping crowd.
Notes, setlist and more photo action on the next page.
Personal Bias: I am a puddle of goop at the hands of this stuff, obviously.
Overheard: Lots of general disbelief. It seems I'm not the only one.
Cruel Cheerleader Surgeon Bad Buys Save Me From What I Want Chloe In The Afternoon Actor Out Of Work Dilettante Just The Same But Brand New Champagne Year Neutered Fruit Strange Mercy She Is Beyond Good And Evil (The Pop Group) Northern Lights Year Of The Tiger Marrow Encore The Party Your Lips Are Red