Tuesday 24th October 2017.
It starts with a film. The Birthday Party, co-written and directed by Annie Clark, plays on a big screen to welcome the audience. The dark comic short does two things as a ‘support act’ for the concert: it sets a creepy Stepford-wives aesthetic tone for the rest of the show, and reminds the audience that everything in the show, right down to its support, will be Annie Clark to the core.
As the first song, a stripped-back Prince Johnny, begins, Clark is at the opening of the stage curtain. As each song continues she is given more and more space to perform, then by the fifth song, Cruel, it is revealed to the audience that there will be no live band at all, instead it is just St Vincent on her own with a guitar and a backing track. This exposed set-up, offset by her incredible guitar talent and dramatic vocals, makes for a seductive performance.
The show is a crescendo; it’s first edged in with older songs, the pace picking up as she moves through her discography until she catapults into the second half of the show saying, “don’t worry, Paris, I know you like to dance too.” Trippy, surreal video projections (produced by Carrie Brownstein) meet her electronic new material before the show comes to an emotional ending. The starkness of her performing on her own means this trippy aesthetic is maximised and indulgent.
There’s something in the show for everyone; old fans will appreciate a good amount of time being dedicated to her previous albums, and new Masseduction is played in its entirety – again, a risky move that pays off simply because every song on it is complete gold.
For some, the lack of a band might have been a bit of a let-down, but for me it was a bold move that paid off. St Vincent’s appeal has always been in her strangeness and this unembellished show feels defiant and innovative.
As a lone performer, Clark is impressively commanding. Upbeat songs like Digital Witness filled the room as if it was being performed by a full band, and guitar shreds like at the end of Birth in Reverse were only more intense for being the audience’s only focus. Her solo performance also added a sense of vulnerability during slower songs. The venue was so quiet during Happy Birthday Johnny I could hear the guy next to me trying not to cry. There was a shuddering silence in the moment between the song’s ending and the audience’s applause that felt almost like magic.
Clark does a great job of imbuing the show with dramatic moments of quiet; intimate songs like New York, in which she doesn’t even have her guitar, contrast beautifully with upbeat songs like Los Ageless, which had the crowd dancing like a pulse, giving the show a dramatic feel. This intensity worked really well in the medium-sized venue, but I can imagine would fall a bit flat somewhere larger, where the quiet moments get lost and the upbeat songs need a full band to fill the space.
Smoking Section followed Slow Disco to finish the show. The poignancy of Slow Disco moved me to tears, its violin and melancholy lyrics reminding me of the particular kind of loneliness that follows an exciting day filled with people. If Slow Disco was the moment of wistfulness, Smoking Section was the haunting solitude of falling asleep, a half-ballad that comes to life and stays with you long after you leave. It was the perfect moment of quiet to end the theatrical show on, and for me encapsulates the essence of St Vincent’s music: alive, and always with you.
Actor Out of Work
Birth in Reverse
Hang on Me
Happy Birthday, Johnny
Fear the Future
Dancing With a Ghost
Visit St Vincent’s website for tickets and more information.