St. Vincent at First Avenue, 5/12/12

St. Vincent
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, May 12, 2012

View a slideshow here.

Late in her performance Saturday night, Annie Clark took off her guitar and sat on the edge of stage. Behind her, the rest of her band, St. Vincent, were hurtling through a rousing version of "Krokodil," and before long Clark was literally standing over the crowd, balancing herself with one hand on the hand of an audience member, and holding her mike with the other.

For a few moments, the tension built--would she jump? wouldn't she?--before Clark dove headlong into the crowd. No one, it's safe to assume, would have expected crowd surfing at a St. Vincent show, but there she was, for several minutes, rolling and writhing along, arching her back now and then, with hands grabbing her and pushing her along. And she singing the whole time: "Sweet, sweet krokodil, dil, dil, dil!"

This was most definitely not a museum piece.

Earlier in the night, there was a little more distance between Clark and the sold-out crowd inside the Mainroom. For the first few songs, the singer--dressed all in black, with silver boots and bright red lipstick--didn't say much to the audience, simply went through performing her songs. It seemed then that the night might go along just like that, with the band playing its arty pop music and slowly building a wall between themselves and the rest of the room.

St. Vincent at First Avenue, 5/12/12
Anna Gulbrandsen

But gradually Clark seemed to warm up, beaming in between songs about how much fun she was having; about Mother's Day; or, in one particularly entertaining instance, about high school prom. "Some of you came here in instead of dressing up with your cummerbund or corsage. Or instead of losing your viriginity," she teased. "Well, let me tell you: you made the wrong decision."

With that said, the music itself was never lacking for energy. Right from the get-go, when Clark dropped a scuzzy guitar solo in "Marrow," the songs all came to life in a new way in their live setting--edgier, more spontaneous, more combustible. There was even something akin to Prince about her performance (even if that is the obvious go-to comparison to make in Minnesota): her mash-up of slinky R&B rhythms (the funky "Neutered Fruit") and jagged punk rock riffs (the cover of the Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil"), and the scrambled guitar solos that ripped those pieces apart. She played it up, too, with her coquettish smiles and jerky dancing.

All those pieces came together most effectively toward the middle of the set, and in particular, with "Surgeon." There was something of the surreal about that song, with the audience singing along to lyrics that seem to be about an abortion, and Clark making it sound downright catchy. But there were also the eerie "oohs" and "ahs" backing it all up, before everything built into the furious ending of the song. That led straight into the slow, somber "Champagne Year," which felt like a coda to "Surgeon," but played perfectly on what seems to be St. Vincent's central themes: the dynamic of tension and release, and the process of tearing something apart in order to build it back up into something strange and beautiful.

And if that all led towards the ritualistic--the stage dive; the strangers all grasping for a piece of her--well, hey, that's just rock 'n' roll.

St. Vincent at First Avenue, 5/12/12
Anna Gulbrandsen

Critic's Bias: I hadn't been especially won over by St. Vincent until Strange Mercy came out, but that converted me. Still, Saturday's show was beyond my expectations.
The Crowd: A mix of younger hipsters and some other people who might have been there because they think Annie Clark is hot. But that's just an assumption on my part.
Overheard in the crowd: "Did you touch her?!"
Random Notebook Dump: Shearwater were the openers for St. Vincent. They played a comparatively slow set that picked up as they went, but it was all fairly monochromatic, even featureless at times. They were admirably clean-cut, though.

Chloe in the Afternoon
Save Me from What I Want
Actor Out of Work
Black Rainbow
Champagne Year
Neutered Fruit
Northern Lights
Year of the Tiger
She Is Beyond Good and Evil

Your Lips Are Red

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