St. Vincent at the McGuire Theater, 10/02/2011
October 2, 2011 (Early Show)
McGuire Theater at the Walker Art Center
With a light show more fitting for a venue five times the size of the 385-seat McGuire Theater, St. Vincent captivated the sold-out crowd with an artfully arresting flurry of both sight and sound. Frontwoman Annie Clark kicked off her Strange Mercy tour with two packed shows in the intimate confines of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis Sunday night, delivering wildly inventive and richly expressive performances to her fans that were thrilled to be hearing her new material played live, especially in such a small room, one which barely contained her dynamic, innovative sound.
The early show opened with a moody, slow-building take on "Cheerleader," as Clark gradually notched up the tension of the track before the fitful release of the chorus, when her backing band (which featured Matthew Johnson on drums, Daniel Mintseris on keys, and Toko Yasuda on Moog) and the lights fully kicked in for the first time. "Cruel" sounded just massive live, with Clark's sprightly guitar work coloring the aggressive number with bold, fiery strokes, before unleashing a wild solo as she drew the song to an impressive finish.
Deep purple and red lights flashed like a heartbeat in time to the propulsive rhythms of "Save Me From What I Want," which was refashioned into a funky sonic excursion for the band, who definitely brought a darker, more electronic edge to Annie's older material. Clark spoke to the crowd for the first time after the third song, thanking us for coming and hoping that "the guys in the chill-out pillows can dance to this one," before an explosive version of "Actor Out Of Work" that again featured her imaginative guitar work.
"Chloe In The Afternoon" was an edgy, percussion-driven gem, which got a rousing ovation from the rapt audience, causing Clark to thank us again and mention "what a great pleasure it is to be back in Minneapolis. Thanks for joining us on the maiden voyage of the Strange Mercy fall 2011 tour. I'm feeling you, Minneapolis. This is fun." And you could tell the warm reception and intimate space put Clark at ease, as she became both more experimental with her playing as well as consistently more talkative as the evening wore on.
She told a story of a friend of hers who is an interior decorator in New York, who was asked to redesign a woman's apartment that hadn't been updated since the '50s. The woman wanted the decorator to come in and remake all of the furniture exactly the same as it was, but just new. "So I wrote a song about it." Of course you did, Annie. You can't pass up inspiration as fresh as that. And "Just The Same But Brand New" swelled and soared to a grand finish, with Annie steadily leading the way on guitar. The dark, moody pulse of "Champagne Year," was another highlight, as was the simmering intensity of "Strange Mercy," which burned to a passionate conclusion.
She introduced the evening's only cover song by saying, "This next song is by a band called the Pop Group." And when that garnered no recognition from the crowd, she exclaimed playfully, "Oh dear, this might not go over well. Yes, this is by the Pop Group. They are a hard band to Google." And with that, the band launched into a loud, riotous rendition of "She Is Beyond Good And Evil," which was absolutely thrilling, if only just to hear Clark drastically rework someone else's material to suit her own singular artistic vision.
The 75-minute set didn't really feature any drops in momentum, as both the pacing and song selection kept things churning right from the start. "Hysterical Strength" was given a mercurial touch in the live setting, while "Year Of The Tiger" featured a tribal, Native American rhythm that augmented Clark's plaintive, desperate plea, "Oh America, can I owe you one?" "Marrow" was given a dark, urgent pulse due to the electronic elements of the backing band, twisting the song into a tense, staccato start that swelled to an untamed end.
Before the last song of the main set, Clark told another story about how she got inspiration for her new songs. "I was doing what one is wont to do while you are eating alone, I was reading a magazine. Vanity Fair--it's not my go-to magazine but it'll do in a pinch." And it was there that she read some excerpts from Marilyn Monroe's diary, one line of which really caught Clark's eye: "Best, finest surgeon -- Lee Strasberg, come cut me open," about Monroe's time studying under Strasberg at the Actor's Studio. Clark took that and turned it into the seductive, intoxicating "Surgeon," which closed the main set with a bluesy breakdown and another riveting, experimental guitar outro by Annie.
After a brief break, Clark returned with just Mintseris on the keys and delivered a stunning, haunting version of "The Party," with Annie not picking up a guitar for the first time all evening just so she could focus on her stirring, dulcet vocals. She confidently snapped her fingers in time with the beat as the stage was bathed in near-darkness, like an ominous cabaret, as the song drew lustfully to a close. The rest of the band came out to join them on the intense set closer, "Your Lips Are Red," which found Annie owning the stage with her outsized persona, confidently swinging along with the song's volatile, atmospheric tempo, before unleashing one last jaw-dropping guitar solo that ended the night with a deafening buzz. If this was just the maiden voyage of St. Vincent's fall tour, it looks like this is going to be one hell of a ride.
Critic's Bias: I've seen Annie perform as St. Vincent under many different guises--solo and with other various backing band accompaniments, but I've never heard her sound more assured and more captivating than I did last night.
The Crowd: It was a full house, but you could hear a pin-drop between songs, a sign of respect which I think Clark appreciated as she grew more comfortable on the stage.
Overheard In The Crowd: "She looks lovely tonight." "She always looks lovely."
Random Notebook Dump: Welsh songstress Cate Le Bon opened the night with a batch of raw, love-lorn ballads that were reminiscent (both musically and vocally) of Nico's sad, desolate songs. This was her first Minneapolis performance, and based on the buzz she's garnering in Europe, and the strength of her set here, it probably won't be her last.
For more photos: See our full slideshow of St. Vincent and Cate Le Bon by Tony Nelson.
Save Me From What I Want
Actor Out Of Work
Chloe In The Afternoon
Just The Same But Brand New
She Is Beyond Good And Evil (the Pop Group cover)
Year Of The Tiger
The Party (Encore)
Your Lips Are Red (Encore)
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