Chicago was given a rare gift when St. Vincent (known to her friends as Annie Clark) stopped by the city to play on two consecutive nights. Both shows—a rainy Sunday at the Metro and on an overly humid Monday night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park—were filled with songs such as “Black Rainbow” and “Marrow” that started out pretty and climbed to a transcendent climax.
Characteristic of St. Vincent’s songs, every tune was filled with melodic guitar riffs and pedal effects that created a sense of lush etherealness. Such was the case both nights when Clark played “The Strangers” early on in the set. While the song has dreamy overtones, it’s easy to forget Clark is singing “paint the black hole blacker” over and over again. On other songs, like “Actor Out of Work” she kept the vocals and guitar rhythms perfectly synchronized with the drumming, creating a pop song even from such clear rock elements. It wasn’t uncommon for Clark to get to a point in many of the songs where she stepped away from her double microphone setup to move more frantically like any rock goddess would.
Though Clark’s soprano voice and gorgeous vocal range is the definite centerpiece and highlight of any St. Vincent show, the strength of her music is supplemented by drumming, bass, keyboards, violin, and a variety of woodwind instruments. Both sets in Chicago featured layers of gorgeous instrumentation, most notably the violin playing of Daniel Hart whose versatility enabled him to play sweetly or intensely depending on the mood the song took. In addition, the flute and saxophone playing at various points made the songs sound like they were tracking a whimsical scene in an indie film.
A perfect example of this is “The Bed” which undoubtedly makes album listeners and audience members alike feel lost in a kind of glorious reverie. Again, it’s easy to forget the serious morbidity of the lyrics as Clark sings, with slow motion euphoria, “Stop, right where you stand / We need a chalk outline if you can / Put your hands where we can see them please.” Perhaps the best demonstration of Clark’s vocal range came during “The Party”, when her voice climbed through a series of swooping octaves.
Though there were few variations in the setlist between nights (she played “Paris is Burning” at the Metro), the main difference was that Clark opened up in between songs a great deal more at the Metro. She confided that she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of other cities but that Chicago was her favorite stop so far on tour. She also recounted being in a strange Starbucks in Nashville where the clientele wouldn’t stop talking about a candidate for a beauty pageant. One man from the crowd immediately shouted out, “You’re more beautiful than them all!” She was relatively quiet at Pritzker Pavilion but still played to a packed crowd, remarking that it wouldn’t be nearly as fun without us there.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about both sets is the fact that in such a short time, Clark has earned herself the fans she truly deserves. 2009 brought the world St. Vincent’s second full-length release, Actor, which definitely highlights a certain kind of talent for songwriting both lyrically and in terms of unique and sophisticated compositions. It’s difficult to believe that Annie Clark could show such depth so soon in her career, providing songs we not only yearn to hear again and again but also songs that are adeptly pulled off live, despite their inherent complexity.