St. Vincent at Metro, 2/18/10

St. Vincent is for lovers.

Or, that’s what it seemed like Thursday night Metro, a post-Valentine’s smattering of pairs, tall and short, black and white, fat and skinny. To the guy behind me: I swear, if I overhear you again telling the obviously bored chick you’re with about how awesome your music collection transitions from Billy Holliday to the Dead Kennedys, I’ll smack you. The stench of your smugness discussing your Yo-Yo Ma jams was equally disgusting.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

All asides, Annie Clark’s nom-de-plume return to Chicago was nothing short of gorgeous. By that, I mean both the tunes AND the performer.

Her two albums – 2007’s Marry Me and last year’s Actor are two gems of strangely damaged pop music. They’re lush with jagged, uneven soundscapes, nestled with her delicate falsetto. It’s like an angel narrating your nightmares.

I suppose that’s part of St. Vincent’s appeal. She’s pretty, diminutive even, and she makes a lot of noise. Big noise.

What’s great about her music is that is contains a “this-could-go-off-the-rails-at-any-moment” energy without entirely deviating from conventional song structure. The arrangements on her records are meticulous. That insularity doesn’t always translate live.

Quite the contrary. It was striking to find how wide open each song seemed to be. They were airy and almost malleable. This was put to the test very early on.

Her band, (four scruffy dudes) started with a diaphanous version of “The Strangers”, where Clark struggled with the volume malfunction of her guitar during the song’s midpoint. It didn’t really seem to matter though, as the swell of brass instruments easily compensated for the guitar’s absence.

One of the night’s best moments was “Marrow,” a stomp full of guitar squalls and an uneasy, audible tension. Clark’s plea of “H-E-L-P, help me, help me”, followed pounding her guitar’s body during the song’s breakdown showed some of her uncharacteristic wickedness.

Unexpectedly, she eventually abandoned her guitar in favor of keyboards during a gentle version of “The Bed”, a mellow ballad. It was quiet enough to hear the conversation of those inconsiderate enough in the back of the club.

Clark’s music commands seriousness, it’s a relief to find she has a sense of humor. As her band left the stage briefly so she could perform solo, she explained her love for “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube, which was the song that proceeded her on stage. She gave a quick narration of the song, then played another song she considered similar in theme, a sterling version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”.

St. Vincent at Metro, Thursday February 18, 2010

The breadth of Clark’s powers were on display with the encore of “Your Lips Are Red”. A tension filled mess of guitar, bass and brass instruments, Clark attacked her guitar with the same gesticulation Gena Rowlands displayed during one of her psychotic episodes in John Cassavetes’s “A Woman Under The Influence”. Both were unnatural, unorthodox and generally terrifying.

I suppose there’s another parallel between those two. In the film, Gena Rowlands is a woman who looked crazy and tried to convince everyone she wasn’t. Here, St. Vincent is a woman who doesn’t look crazy and wants to convince everyone she might actually be.

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View more photos from the show at our gallery.

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