St. Vincent, the living art installation of singer-songwriter/guitarist Annie Clark, isn’t so much a performer as she is a performance.---
Between songs, when Clark spoke to the crowd at The Depot on Friday night, it wasn’t just casual banter to break up the energy between songs. It was a series of spoken lyrical vignettes connected by the overarching theme of an artist’s relationship with an audience. In other words: a performance. You’d have missed it if you weren’t paying attention.
You’d also be forgiven, because there’s no shame in giving in to the part of you that just wants to hear some loud guitar and watch some hair fly, which both tend to happen at a St. Vincent concert.
Her latest singles, “Digital Witness” and “Birth in Reverse,” from her new self-titled album, along with past songs like “Marrow” and “Cruel,” were good venue fillers packed with St. Vincent’s signature combination of twitchiness and grandiosity.
There’s definitely a cerebral kink to Clark’s polyrhythmic and layered compositions, but listening is only part of the experience. Watching Clark simultaneously spider her fingers over the fretboard while she sings or, even better, shimmies in a choreographed Pac-Man path across the stage is a unique kind of spectacle in an otherwise simple stage show.
If you were somehow able to take your eyes off of Clark’s robotic antics, you would have seen she was backed by only three more band members using guitars, drums, keyboard and synths to provide all the sounds required by Clark’s songs. That includes one killer theremin solo during the performance of “Northern Lights.”
Clark also made good use of a pyramid-like platform during her quieter material. “Prince Johnny,” from her new album, was an especially good showcase of Clark’s elastic voice—all sung over an easy groove. Clark even put the guitar away for a few songs, most notably during the rarely heard “Krokodil,” a hard-driving guitar number during which Clark flailed, collapsed and barked as expertly as Iggy Pop could—except Iggy Pop never did it high heels and a dress.
Clark never strayed far from her guitar for too long, though. And why should she? Clark is the rare guitar player whose virtuosity can be discerned even by people who’ve never picked one up. While watching her perform the complex arrangement of a song like “Surgeon,” it doesn’t take long to figure out that something otherworldly is going on.
Speaking of that guitar: It’s worth noting that Friday night’s show was heavily—and enthusiastically—attended by dudes who ribbed each other and stood agape in the same way dudes from the ’70s probably did when they watched Jimmy Page.
Clark certainly isn’t the first woman in rock history to expertly sling an ax, but this may be the first time that a woman is considered the de facto standard bearer—not just an honorary member—of today’s rock-guitar pantheon.
Photography by Kimball Bennion