The other day I talked with a friend who lives in Minnesota and had the opportunity to see St. Vincent before I did. I remember being confused; when I asked how the show was, he could barely describe it to me. All he could say was “You’re going to love it, I promise.”
After seeing St. Vincent perform on Saturday, April 5, I now understand why – the show is so overwhelmingly stimulating that it’s almost impossible to fully portray what a St. Vincent show is like to someone who hasn’t seen one before.
One thing is certain, though. St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, has a knack for showmanship and a flair for the dramatic like no other in the indie-rock world. Her concerts don’t feel like rock concerts but rather like Broadway performances.
The Riviera Theater (4746 N. Racine Ave.) was filled to the brim with around 2,300 people and almost everyone on the ground level was standing on their tip-toes to watch her play — I’m 6-foot-4 and even I was doing this.
Her performance and stage presence were systematically choreographed and planned out, down to the tiniest gesture. At the end of each song, all of the lights would drop and stage hands would rush onstage to set things up for the next song. One minute, Clark was standing on top of a pastel pink platform (resembling the throne seen on the front of her most recent self-titled release), her gigantic shadow stretching up to the ceiling behind her, and the next minute she’d be ripping out a guitar solo, bent over the audience, resembling a more traditional indie-rock performance.
Throughout the set, Clark’s bandmates wore all white while Clark herself wore a tight black dress with what brought to mind a giant blood-red rose hanging off her chest and spanning the length of her torso. She changed outfits for the encore and came out wearing a black mini-skirt and a black top with shoulders pointed upward, looking like some sort of space queen. As Clark herself describes it on her Twitter: “My Spring look is, ‘I have an 8 o’clock reservation on the moon.’”
Anyone familiar with Clark’s music will know that not only does she have the fashion sense of an alien, but that she is capable of getting noises out of her guitar that sound as though they came from the pages of an L. Ron Hubbard book.
Even though Clark is a great performer and musician and has a fantastic voice, one of her strongest assets is that she is one of the most innovative and cathartic guitar players today. At one point she’ll be bending out screeching high notes during an improvised solo, the next she’ll be grinding on a low riff with a crunchy distortion that makes it feel as though the whole theater’s about to cave in.
One of the most memorable moments of the set was when, standing with her legs in a V at the top of her “throne,” she blasted out a three-minute solo at the end of a song. After blowing everyone away with her chilling solo, she dramatically took her guitar off and held it out with one hand by its neck, her head hanging down. After a stage hand came and grabbed it, she left her hand reaching out, now empty and open. She then slowly collapsed onto her throne and crawled down it, pausing briefly at each of the three steps. When she reached the bottom, the lights went out.
This is the perfect example of a combination of theatrical performance and excellent musicianship that made the St. Vincent show so great to watch. Clark performed for about two hours, playing most of the songs from her 2014 release, St. Vincent, but also hitting tracks from her three other albums, Strange Mercy (2011), Marry Me (2009) and Actor (2007).
For the encore, Clark covered Nirvana’s Lithium in honor of the the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, which fell on the day of the concert. Her final song was a 10-minute jam on the track “Your Lips are Red” off of Actor, which was a surprising choice — it isn’t a very well-known song. The rendition that Clark and her band performed was radically different than the one on the album; it was much heavier and creepier than the original recording.
After St. Vincent finally left the stage, I was perplexed and disappointed. Disappointed because even though the show was two hours long, it went by much too fast. Perplexed, because I couldn’t help but wonder how I would write an article about one of the strangest shows I’ve ever seen.
This barely scratches the surface of the St. Vincent experience, although it should be enough to give a peek into what is one of the most entertaining performances you could possibly have the opportunity to see. Fortunately, she won’t be gone long. Next time she’s in town will be during the Pitchfork Music Festival on July 19.