St. Vincent: Concert of the year? - REVIEW
blog by Ben Kirst • May 06, 2012 @ 7:35pm
The band:Brooklyn’s St. Vincent is the project of wildly talented guitarist / vocalist / songwriter Annie Clark, a Berklee-trained musician who has cut her relatively young teeth in apprenticeships for such indie and avant-garde legends as Sufjan Stevens, Glenn Branca and The Polyphonic Spree.
Clark’s third St. Vincent album, Strange Mercy, built on the critical acclaim garnered by her first record, Marry Me, and its impressive follow-up, Actor, by debuting at number 19 on the Billboard album chart in September 2011. St. Vincent arrived in Buffalo on Saturday night still basking in the glow of a buzzworthy performance at Coachella that reached its climax when Clark hurled herself offstage into the crowd below. The local performance was particularly anticipated due to a cancellation earlier this year.
The venue: Town Ballroom (681 Main St., Buffalo) was in fine form for Saturday’s show following a Friday night concert by metalheads Trivium, a band whose modus operandi (and fan base) is a 180-degrees turn away from St. Vincent. If there was any leftover blood or broken glass from the previous evening’s affair, I didn’t see it.
The crowd: Packed with a very appreciative, very enthusiastic audience. The declarations of “I love you!” and “Go to prom with me!” and “Marry me!” got a little old, but, in fairness, Clark is an amazingly attractive combination of brains, beauty and skill—sometimes it’s hard for the gentlemen to control themselves. And the ladies, too.
The performance: Maybe the best show of 2012? St. Vincent was absolutely incredible. Rarely is there a show that can be enjoyed on so many levels—as critical commentary on the state of rock ‘n’ roll, as a study of the deconstruction of traditional rock music tropes, as a frigging kickass rock show. As a hot girl with a guitar. A hot girl who can play the hell out of that guitar.
The band opened with “Marrow” off of 2009’s Actor, Clark emerging alone on a darkened stage in a haze of dry ice smoke and misty blue light. Her backing musicians—drummer Matthew Johnson, synth / guitarist Toko Yasuda and production / keyboardist Daniel Mintseries—were arranged in a semi-circle around the stage, and when the instrumentation kicked in following the breathy intro to “Marrow,” the stage was bathed in oscillating red and yellow light. Clark was dressed in a black sleevelss top with emroidered gold brocade, black leather hot pants, black tights and silver slippers. Her stage movements were jerky, robotic, as though she were some kind of rock ‘n’ roll marionette—but when she tore into the solo, good Lord.
Next up was a stellar rendition of “Cheerleader,” followed by a rendition of “Chole in the Afternoon” that could almost be described as post-funk—dissonant, deconstructed but strangely full of playful soul. “Save Me From What I Want” was similarly funky, and cast a bright spotlight on Clark’s seemingly effortless ability to spin off technically and sonically challenging guiitar work. She may have dropped out of Berklee, but goddamn, did she go to some classes. “Save Me From What I Want” also seemed to loosen Clark up a bit, as she dropped some of the robotic stage antics and eased into a rock ‘n’ roll lean during the final riff that would have made Joe Perry proud.
Heavy strobes enhanced the visual aspects of “Actor”—for some reason, I wrote of Clark during this song, “Is this the coolest woman on earth?”—and the show slowed a bit for Clark’s self-described “love letter to New York City, Strange Mercy’s “Dillentante.” I always worry when shows lose a bit of momentum, but St. Vincent proceeded to offer perfect versions of “Black Rainbow” and “Cruel”—the latter being one of the real highlights of the entire performance, featuring one of my favorite riffs in Clark’s impressive collection.
“Surgeon,” “Champagne Year” and “Neutered Fruit” were solid, but “Northern Lights” was another real barn-burner (it included a theromin solo!). “Year of the Tiger” was, perhaps, the weak spot of the show—a little slow, a little dull—but St. Vincent’s cover of The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” was stunning and the set-closer, “Krokodil,” culminated with Clark diving from the barricade into the throng of fans. This was the type of show that changes people’s lives.
The verdict: What a show. What a show! St. Vincent’s live performance, even more so than it’s recorded work, highlights the manner in which Clark approaches rock music from a postmodern, critical perspective—all of the parts are there (guitar solos, heavy drums, gospel organ, stage moves, leather pants, lights and fog, a theromin, for crying out loud—a staple of the Led Zeppelin stage show) but they are reconfigured into a different, sometimes bizarre order that gives the viewer / listener the impression of a rock show, but at the same time…not. It’s art. And this performance was art. Come back soon.