St. Vincent dropped her new album St. Vincent on Tuesday this week. She also appeared as a guest and performer on The Colbert Report, participated in an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit, and blew the roof off House of Blues in Boston last night. In short, she is your new everything. Note to my potentially concerned readers: this is not a paid advertisement. This is a show review in support of my new spirit animal, Annie Clark, and as such it is the gateway to your new or continued obsession with her.
I waited outside for half an hour next to an Italian sausage truck and watched the line for St. Vincent stretch down Lansdowne Street. No one bought an Italian sausage, but the vendors seemed in good spirits and swore lustily about the cold. A man in Toms clambered over the ice mounds on the sidewalk. When my friend arrived with our tickets, we spilled into the warmth of House of Blues, tied our winter coats around our waists, and claimed our floor spots for the show.
I was not prepared for the sound. The concert was a truly physical experience, as the speakers blasted us into the arms of the bartenders selling $5 Red Bulls. Holly Herndon opened with an eerie and unsettling moan of recorded sounds and her own full-throated harmonies. She wrenched a claw across her laptop, producing sounds that I have dubbed "Alien Traffic Accident," "Godzilla at the Park," "Acid Rain," and "We've Released the Mechanical Cockroaches." Every vocalization was segmented, chopped and stretched into a throbbing string of sound. My favorite moment was when Herndon modified the vocal effects so that her inhalations and exhalations shrieked through the concert hall. The very walls felt like the ribs of a whale, moving in and out with tormented screeches. We were left dazed, relieved, and desperate for a continuous melody to bring us home.
Out came Clark. Her feet skittered across the stage as the strobe light winked, transforming her run into a seamless float that reminded me of an old-timey zoetrope where the horse pictures blend into a full gallop. Lit from below, she became a puppet. Her hair was an electron cloud around her head, her dress one that could have graced Carrie, the Paper Bag Princess, or a model on Project Runway. Every move, I realized, was calculated and controlled. Even as she bent over her guitar, stroking and striking and stomping, she followed circumscribed paths. She carved out grooves on the stage and in the air, repeating the same motions over and over again until they seemed to have taken on a symbolic meaning of their own. You can see this in "Digital Witness" as she performed it on The Colbert Report.
During the concert, I was able to tolerate the off-tempo bobbing, bedazzled shoulder spikes, and raised iPhones of the other patrons because Clark herself was magnetic. She contorted herself around a raised platform on the stage, twisting and rolling down the steps to rest in a corpse pose at the end of a song. Every move seemed to grind out of her as gears whirred and clicked. Two stylistic moments struck me as an extension of this person-as-automaton performance; in her song "Prince Johnny" she sang, "So I pray to all/ To make me a real girl," and later in the show she repeatedly raised her hands as scissors and cut through the invisible strings above her head. Here she was, pushing against the boundaries of her puppet life while liberating herself through song and collective will.
Through it all, Clark was marvelously aloof. She and her backup guitarist moved in separate planes; they would skitter in opposite directions, one moving forward and the other backwards, only to reverse directions and pass one another again. Their planes met only once during the show, as they bowed towards one another, heads pressed together and bodies at obtuse angles, while feverishly attacking their guitars. It was an Avatar moment if I ever saw one.
While Clark ended the first two songs to a black-out before jumping into the next one, she also softened her act with asides to the audience. They were wonderfully ethereal, an amalgamation of thoughts that she seemed to have plucked from a dream catcher. She would tell the audience things like, "You're on the T. You look around you and imagine what everyone would look like as a baby." She spoke to a "you" that encapsulated everyone, drawing us to look through her rose-colored spectacles. She described how "you" once spent nine hours trying to start a fire with a magnifying glass. When you did, you felt magical. Then you remembered that you were afraid of fire. And the next song would jump forward, ready and sparking and strong. Her limbs would lock, her eyes would pop, her hair would whip like the frothy arms of a hurricane.
Ultimately, I am slightly saddened when watching videos of St. Vincent or even listening to her music recorded. Clark is infinitely better live, where her personality and the lights and speakers can blast you into a state of bliss, even as your shoes are cramping your feet and your lower back is sweating from your knotted winter coat. I wanted to dance the entire time, although I would have needed a 10x10 foot pen roped off from the rest of the audience. That would be the only way to do her justice.
For those of you ready to experience your own puppet show, here are the dates for Clark's Digital Witness Tour. Drive there. Fly there. Walk there. Get a taste of her music and you will not be disappointed. And if you're still having doubts, take a gander at this moment from her Reddit "Ask Me Anything." I am nutbars for her.