St. Vincent live is heavenly
Matthew Munhall | Monday, November 3, 2014
I saw Annie Clark, the musician St. Vincent, live at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago this July, and again last Friday night at the festival’s Paris incarnation. After these two entrancing sets, I am confident making this statement: St. Vincent is hands down the best live act in the world right now.
Clark has always been an immensely talented guitarist and performer, but with the release of her self-titled fourth record this year, she has assumed a new level of confidence in her artistry.
“I self-titled my new record because I was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography and he talks about how the hardest thing for a musician to do is to sound like yourself,” she said. Not only does Clark sound uniquely like herself, but her music, image and live show all perfectly complement her singular artistic vision.
Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne, with whom Clark collaborated on 2012’s “Love This Giant,” seems to have had an influence on her captivating stage presence. St. Vincent’s live show recalls the joyous energy and highly choreographed theatricality of “Stop Making Sense,” the seminal 1984 Talking Heads concert film that remains a high-water mark for the rock concert as a medium.
“If St. Vincent doesn’t come out dressed as a stylish futuristic witch,” I tweeted before her Halloween night set, “I’m going to be very disappointed.” Suffice to say, Clark, who sported a brightly-sequined dress, slicked-back lavender-grey hair and neon eyeshadow, exceeded my expectations. Her image has reached David Bowie levels of bizarre, like a futuristic cult leader who went back in time to deliver art-rock to the masses.
As the 8-bit bass line of opener “Rattlesnake” echoed through the Grande halle de la Villette on Friday night, the calmly collected Clark took the stage. Before long, she was shredding a fuzzed-out guitar solo as the crowd reached a state of frenzied disbelief. “Am I the only one in the only world?” Clark asks on the track, as if an affirmation of her place as an auteur operating at the highest level.
Clark’s onstage movements are theatrical, angular and almost artificial, keeping with her recent record’s commentary about the digital age. She and guitarist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda shuffled back and forth robotically during the guitar solo of “Birth in Reverse.” During “Cheerleader,” Clark performed atop a pastel pink pyramid, defiantly singing, “I don’t want to be your cheerleader!” After stumbling through the audience during the climax of an almost 12-minute-long rendition of “Your Lips Are Red,” she collapsed on stage in dramatic fashion. At all times, Clark is captivating — demanding the audience’s rapt attention.
Her stage banter is equally entertaining. Early on, she delivered a rambling monologue touching on topics like digging one’s hand into one’s thigh during awkward conversations, suitcase design — which she called the “epitome of theoretical” — and trying to fly as a child using pizza boxes as wings.
Not to mention, Clark, who studied at the Berklee College of Music, is an amazing guitarist. Her guitar work experiments with different textures, from the clean New Wave sound of “Cruel” to the scuzzy breakdown of “Huey Newton.” After a day watching moody synth pop groups, it was refreshing to watch an artist so skilled at guitar showcase that talent in such a bold display.
St. Vincent will play with Future Islands in Chicago on Dec. 2, and if you can somehow spare a few hours on a late-semester Tuesday night, you should find a way to go. Clark has always gone by the name St. Vincent; her fantastic live shows this year prove she is more than worthy of her canonization.