From the opening strains of Sugarboy, St. Vincent commands attention. Annie Clark and her band – bassist Toko Yasuda, keys player Daniel Mintseris and drummer Matt Johnson – shuffle onstage in darkness before being bathed from behind in dazzling light. Clark is a style icon and has obviously put a lot of work into the visual aspect of her stage show. The quartet is arranged in a modular fashion, each one in front of a square lighting rig whilst giant, surreal video art is projected above the stage. The guys are dressed in weird Devo-style boiler suits, and with their helmet hair wigs, faceless masks and bulbous fabric noses, they are oddly reminiscent of the Doozer’s from Fraggle Rock. It’s disquieting… but in a good way.
Tonight’s setlist is primarily culled from her latest record Masseduction, and the songs translate seamlessly to a live setting. On slinky electro-funk numbers like Masseduction and Savior the band really hit their stride and achieve a sound that is two parts Daft Punk to one part Prince. A lot has been made about Annie Clark’s handle on the guitar and, while I tend to think her playing is slightly overrated, there is no denying tonight that she has killer tone and an uncanny ear for composing catchy, angular riffs.
As the show progresses, it feels like the arch nature of the performances and the installation-style video shorts that accompany each song are starting to take me out of the experience. Initially, I was really digging the Lynchian visuals but after about eight films of Clark doing increasing ‘quirky’ stuff like puking up paint or wearing scary clown makeup it starts to grate and seem a bit…well…contrived.
This is probably compounded by it being an all-seated affair, which initially seems to suck some of the urgency out of the performance. However, this is soon fixed when St. Vincent’s legion of Edinburgh fans stand up en-masse and start dancing during Digital Witness. This effectively turns the show into a standing gig and I find myself giving in to the experience a lot more. I particularly enjoy the encore, which is thankfully devoid of surreal video imagery. It features a heart-wrenching rendition of the wonderful Happy Birthday Johnny and the show ends with just Clark, her guitar and a barebones version of Severed Crossed Fingers that showcases her expressive and powerful voice to great effect.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Buchanan.
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