June 4th, 2009, First Avenue I begin my review with bias, as I’ve seen Annie Clark (the mastermind and musicianship behind st. vincent) before, and she’s fast become one of my all-time favorite performers.
On the heels of a lackluster opening act (Philadelphia’s bearded duo, Pattern is Movement, who just didn’t do much for me but might sound more impressive on recordings), they wandered on stage, lead singer sporting shorts, stockings, and dress shoes, to deliver the title track from the debut album, Marry Me. Moving through a set that was about fifty-fifty between that disc and their latest, Actor, released late last month, st. vincent kept the audience on its best behavior and sharpest attention.
Clark’s showpersonship was evident, especially in her audience interaction. She wasn’t afraid to connect with her listeners, absentmindedly revisiting the embarrassment she’d felt at having sung at the prodding of Miss Nebraska in Omaha the night before (as an Omaha native, I could relate to both parties.)
The pure performance aspect of st. vincent is what really gets me excited for these shows, though. This band of merry musicians act like they’ve been doing it as long as the giants of rock music, taking risks that almost always pay off, never letting the audience get bored, and delivering alternative takes of songs we’ve already fondly taken to heart. The menace of “Paris is Burning” was turned down to a near-a capella solo act that was almost charming in its own way; some songs were extended, while others were truncated; and yet nothing felt neither lacking nor excessive.
Clark’s personal presence was something I looked forward to especially, and she didn’t disappoint. Her signature distorted microphone gave some lines the feeling as though we were listening to an old radio drama, and that the antagonist was the smiling, large eyed woman bashfully thanking her crowd. Conversely, her near-apocalyptic guitar grinding made the apocalypse feel almost comfortable, bouncing off the walls of First Ave, dropping Clark to her knees in a musical frenzy, and astounding us all. And just like that, she was on her feet again, waving herself away. Shortly after, she returned for an encore of “The Party” and “Your Lips Are Red”, not to mention a brawl of cheering once they actually departed.
st. vincent is an act I hope to come back to time after time. With crisp vocals, intuitive musicianship, consideration for the paying public, and always something that no one was expecting, Clark and her band took control of First Ave on Thursday night and happily, gloriously abused the privilege.