You must forgive me. First of all, I am a mere writer and an unheralded one at that. The only devices I can call upon are simple words and phrases, and frankly, there is no more useless tool than a pile of nouns and verbs when it comes to describing Annie Clark. Secondly, though I am indeed male, I am also of the married kind, which in a way precludes me from producing the kind of gushing, wolf-whistling, “hubba-hubba “prose that you typically find when reading reviews of her work, and particularly her live act. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t go there, just that I shouldn’t. After all, she might read this (not you Annie, my wife—though if you do happen to read this and feel like meeting for a cup of coffee to show your appreciation I’m sure we could arrange something).
I was expecting great things for my first St. Vincent experience. Though a relative newcomer to Ms. Clark’s material, I had spent the past year or so devouring both of her LPs, developing a particular affinity for her latest, Actor, in the process. I simply cannot get enough of the record. The prospect of seeing it performed in a cozy locale like the Rhythm Room was an opportunity I couldn’t ignore.
After a memorable, at times jaw-dropping opening set from Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Annie and her band of merry men quietly appeared onstage. “The Strangers” is the perfect show opener for two reasons. One: it’s the album opener on Actor. Two: the song itself is a lovely, string and flute based organism, twisting and turning its way through several grim passages (“Paint the black hole blacker / Paint the black hole blacker”) before finally, finally, punching through the lush veneer straight into mean and nasty guitar skronk, an echo of voices fading in and out around the noise.
It led straight into “Save Me From What I Want” (as I hoped it would) and by that time the place was completely alive. On paper it seems an unremarkable track—simple, repetitive drum pattern, two-note guitar phrase, lots of empty space—but there is a confident air to Clark’s delivery and performance; an aggressive, captivating quality that demands your attention. Her moments of musical fury, while well-documented, are select and few. They are, nevertheless, quite memorable. Her guitar solos are all bent waist, stomping feet and bruised knees. It’s very physical and highly visceral. In other words, she’s great theatre.
“Actor Out of Work” was pure burn; alto sax meets bass meets the kind of chugging, low-end punk rock that leaves your neck sore. By the time it wrapped, Clark was on her knees, banging at her pedal rack with her fists, conjuring a ghastly howl. It’s fascinating to me that someone so petite can shred so righteously, and with such clarity. Her subsequent ability to then turn and silence an entire roomful of people with a stunning acoustic rendition of Nico’s “These Days” is testament to her God-given versatility. It was arguably the moment of the evening.
I say arguably, because after “These Days” came the Holy Trinity. She played the three finest tracks off Actor (“Black Rainbow”, “Marrow” ,“The Party”) in swift succession to close the set. I struggle to make apt comparisons, and, as I stated earlier, words don’t do this woman justice, but suffice to say the events that took place in that room during that 10-12 minute span were a great pleasure to behold. She is a magnificent performer with a talented, intelligent group of musicians by her side. I defy anyone with blood still flowing through their veins to remain still and unmoved when “Marrow” gallops into its big-throated midsection, with horns and drums wedded in an irresistible march; a sheer masterstroke of low-end funk fantasia.
She ended the night with a scorching rendition of “Your Lips Are Red”, one of the few cuts from Marry Me that made the set. I glanced at the dazzled grins and awestruck mugs beaming out alongside my own and as I marveled at my own dumb-luck, I couldn’t help wondering what was next for me. A little more than a year ago I was unaware of St. Vincent. What else is out there? What else am I missing? It’s a brilliant time to be a music lover, ladies and gentlemen. Savor it.