Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Vincent Live

A couple of weeks ago.I went to see St. Vincent in concert. I had been looking forward to this show ever since hearing her latest album, which came out in early May.

Although I had been hearing about St. Vincent for a couple of years now (she’s originally from Dallas, and the local media has been singing her praises a lot over that time period), I had been resisting checking her out. You see, I have a tendency to regard with extreme skepticism anything that receives general acclaim. That’s how I ignored Radiohead for 12 years. Despite this tendency, however, I actually do try to decide for myself whether I like something or not. And when I finally got around to checking out St. Vincent’s latest album, Actor, I liked it. I liked it a lot. It’s one of the strongest albums I’ve heard in a long time.

I showed up early enough at the venue to ensure that I could be right up front again. I got there about 50 minutes before the doors opened, and there were only 3 people there already.

The opening band was called Pattern Is Movement. They consisted of 2 somewhat large, hirsute gentlemen, one of whom played the drums while the other one played keyboards and sang. I liked them. They had kind of a rock/blues/funk thing goin’ on. They were quite loud – I had to put my earplugs in. Interestingly, they did Beyonce and DeAngelo covers, and actually did a good job pulling them off in their own style.

In between sets the giant curtain was lowered while the stage was set up. All of us up front were peeking under the curtain to see if we could get a glimpse of Annie (St. Vincent is the stage name of Annie Clark). The angle of the stage and the heaviness of the “curtain” were such that you could really only see people’s shoes and a little of their legs. It soon became clear that Annie was on stage when a pair of red open-toed sandals/shoes and textured black stockings appeared and started futzing with one of the guitars. There was a large group of teenage girls next to me who were going nuts when they figured out that those shoes belonged to Annie. I thought it was interesting that there was a healthy mix of genders who all seemed equally excited to see this show.

When the curtain rose the band was all in place including Annie, and they launched into “Marry Me”. It was a thrill to see the source of that amazing voice in person, and Annie owned that crowd as soon as that curtain rose. I had agreed to only shoot photos during the first 3 songs, so I was trying to take lots of photos while still enjoying what I was listening to.

The band included a violin and saxophone in addition to drums and bass, with the violinist joining Annie on guitar for a couple of songs. All of the songs were performed with the band except for “Paris Is Burning”. I wouldn’t have minded a couple more “solo” songs. There’s something I find really enjoyable about a singer out there by themselves with only a guitar and maybe a harmonica. Some of my favorite Dylan and Springsteen stuff is when they do that. The band was pretty good, although I think the drums could’ve used just a touch more “pop”. Some of the songs were altered a bit from their album versions, but they all sounded great.

One of the things about St. Vincent that people are constantly noting is the duality of her work. Namely that she manages to blend lushly orchestrated music and a beautiful voice with buzzsaw guitars and lyrics that frequently tend toward the darker side of life. The very first song on Actor hits you right in the face with this, with an intro that could be from a classic Disney animated film but a chorus that insists “make the black hole blacker”. One of her songs is titled “Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood” fer cryin’ out loud. As to the Disney aspect, from the first time I ever heard “The Strangers”, and coupled with the wide-eyed album cover photos, the opening of the song makes me think of Snow White. This duality is very Blue Velvet, with the perfectly manicured lawn absolutely crawling with insects when you take the time to look a bit closer.

This duality shows up in a physical way in St. Vincent’s live shows. She positively attacks her guitar when it’s time to play the heavy parts. She seems to treat it like an animal to be tamed, like it won’t respect her unless she really shows it who’s boss. She almost appears to be possessed, and that the only way to exorcise her demons is to coax a racket out of her guitar. She slapped it, strummed it violently, and bent it to get some vibrato out of it. It was absolutely fascinating, and sometimes even a little bit scary, to watch. Which of course suits her music perfectly. This duality is at play in her physical appearance as well, with her beauty and diminutive frame seeming to belie the darkness of her lyrics. Not to mention that her speaking voice sounds so cheery.

She seemed a little bit nervous on stage. She knocked over a water bottle on top of her amp, knocked off the capo clipped to her guitar’s headstock, and overall just seemed a little amped up. I’m not sure if she had hometown nerves or whether she’s just naturally fidgety. She was telling a story about running into David Byrne in a truck stop after Bonnaroo, and being “more nervous than usual”. In any case, it was actually kind of endearing.

Overall it was a really good show, and just about as good as I was hoping it would be. The sound was really good, and for the first time in a long time I could understand most of what was being spoken in between songs. All but two of the songs from Actor were played, as well as four from Marry Me (whose title comes from the genius that is Arrested Development). There was one encore of two songs, and the total show was about an hour and a half. For me the highlight was “The Bed”. I really love the lyrics in that song.

I had been eyeing the setlist at Annie’s feet all night, so as soon as one of the stage hands came out after the show I asked if he would grab it for me, and he did! I hung around out back for about half an hour (as did many others) in the hopes of possibly getting the setlist signed, but I was pretty tired so I left before Annie appeared.

Overall a great show, and I recommend checking out St. Vincent if you get the chance.

Here's the view under the curtain before the set started.

Videos (not shot by me, and mostly included for their excellent sound quality. Visuals could use some work. Like, oh I don't know, using the zoom!)

Pattern Is Movement:

Gawd, The Bed is frickin' genius (plus, you can totally see the back of my head!):



Blogger m. heart said...

Oh wow, she's beautiful, and these are excellent photos — especially that b&w one.

6/30/2009 8:29 AM  

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