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Review: Don’t Confuse St. Vincent With Just Rock Music

Photo courtesy of Al Rossin

Suddenly, an announcement blares through the PA. In the exact same programmed voice that Radiohead used on “Fitter, Happier,” a prerecorded statement tells the audience that to enjoy this show to the highest possible level, the attendee’s should refrain from video and photo recording. The use of this specific computerized voice is no coincidence. In 1997 Radiohead were warning us of an overly connected, yet chillingly isolated future, in 2014 St. Vincent speaks to a society “entombed in a shrine of zero’s and ones.”

The show begins with “Rattlesnake” the new album’s opening song. Annie and her ace touring band (now on their second album cycle together) play the song to sharply rehearsed perfection. Then, just as one thinks she is going to play the song exactly as it sounds on the record, she let’s a mind blowing guitar solo rip. Given her prowess as a song writer, vocalist, and all around artist, it can be easy to forget just how phenomenally talented a guitar player Annie Clark is. Never one to go for the showy histrionics of some of her contemporaries, for the first time in her career, Annie is letting her freak flag fly. Finding a twisted love child in the combination of Robert Fripps ornate pedal board nerd-dom, and Thurston Moore’s sweaty LES noise destruction, Annie Clark has developed a style so impressive and unique it’s impossible to compare her playing to anyone else.

As the show goes on the set list is heavy on songs from the new album, released the day before. While a devoted core know every word, it’s clear many are hearing these songs for the first time, but judging by the collective reaction, everybody is on board with the new material. As she plays, her and multi-instrumentalist Toko Yasuda perform tight, choreographed hand and dance motions, often shuffling around the stage as if on conveyor belts. If there is an overarching theme to the new record, it’s about how our obsession with cataloging our lives has removed us from the present. By playing in an intentionally robotic motion, they enhance the inherent artificiality of a live performance, a subtle commentary on our obsession with “having been there” over “being there” right now.

After tearing the notoriously lousy but undeniably massive Terminal 5 to pieces, St. Vincent goes into perennial closer “Your Lips Are Red.” The only song from her first album to survive the current set list, it’s a reminder of everything Annie Clark has had to do to get where she is. She could have stayed the course of that first record and likely found immense success writing agreeable adult contemporary pop for Apple Store’s and family picnics.

Further, she could have taken a more straight forward blues based approach and wow’d the old guard rock n roll literati who think the only great guitar players are the one’s who imitate the hero’s of their classic rock soaked youth. No, none of that would have been good enough for Annie Clark, who is now on the short list of 21st century musicians truly expanding our sonic boundaries. With the raw guitar ability of Mark Knopfler, the simple pop sensibility of Brian Eno, and the white hot swagger of Blueprint era Jay-Z, St. Vincent is redefining the live experience, and looking utterly comfortable doing it.

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