Live review St Vincent, O2 Academy Brixton, London 17th October 2017

St Vincent, O2 Academy Brixton, London

Experimental, brazen, and charged with the theatrical, Annie Clark brings all the absurdity of ‘MASSEDUCTION’ to life.

Introducing ‘MASSEDUCTION’ last month with a day-glo pink ‘press conference’ that often veered into the nonsensical, St Vincent took a moment to satirise her own artistic path in the process. A stranger poses a question while she’s stood behind an absurd amount of neon microphones: how much has St Vincent changed since her debut album ‘Marry Me? “I’m still just that good ol’ Texas gal that your mom knows and loves!” Annie Clark replies cheerfully, her exaggerated grin stating quite the opposite.

Perhaps tellingly, her show at Brixton Academy begins with ‘Marry Me’s title track; delivered by a static St Vincent, and strewn with flourishes of string instrumentation - which may, or may not, be coming from behind the unfussy curtain hanging behind her. Dividing her show into two theatre-like halves - the first being a regimented, chronological journey through her previous output to date - another carefully chosen debut cut, ‘Now, Now’ comes next. “I’m not your mother’s favourite dog / I’m not the carpet you walk on,” she sings, shifting her stationary microphone a metre or so to the left, partially hidden behind a flutter of fabric. “I’m not one small atomic bomb / I’m not anything at all”. The refrain tumbles out in elongated vowels: anything and Annie merging into one indistinguishable word. ‘The Strangers’ and ‘Cheerleader’ follow - along with their equally inanimate, slowed-down run throughs - and they similarly seem to be selected to serve a larger purpose. “What do I share? What do I keep?” she asks aloud, the lyrics taking on a new meaning considering tonight’s stark set-up. “I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more,” too, seems fitting. The clinical plainness of tonight’s ‘Act 1’ - a deliberate, muted presentation - is at odds at what comes afterwards; the gaudy universe of ‘MASSEDUCTION’.

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A running theme, here - which extends through the whole show - is a flat-out refusal to conform. Challenging inter-song patter, performative niceties, previous expectations, notions that ‘real music’ be performed by an ‘authentic band’, and indeed, the very premise of a conventional gig, is a daring move. It’s also a jarring opposite to the dangerous physicality of the ‘St Vincent’ tour, blood-streaked faces, unhinged crowd surfs, and detached, pre-scripted speeches traded in for something equally peculiar. The cranked-up backing track takes its cues from a super-production pop show, without quite being one. As the curtain peels back, and a clown-like screaming face unfurls instead of a gigantic band, it becomes apparent there’s no one else onstage at all. This is a one-woman spectacle; just St Vincent, and a seemingly endless procession of her custom-designed Ernie Ball electric guitars.

After a brief interval, St Vincent returns. The howling mouth and drench of purple murk is swapped for crisp retina-searing bursts of colour; leopard-print clad asses, sinister, bandage-covered faces, cake-phones, deadpan shredder sketches and latex-wearing dominatrix characters all glitching on the screens behind her as she shreds - in true to album order - through ‘MASSEDUCTION’. ‘Sugarboy’ thuds and skitters with gender-fluid yowls of “boy” and “girl” interchangeably, ‘Savior’ simpers and begs its way through countless archetypal roleplay fetishes. And ‘Dancing With A Ghost’ and ‘New York’ are yearning cries; their sadness finding a home in tonight’s brazen isolation. The only thing that’s missing from the whole visual collage seems to be St Vincent’s wink that ends her ‘New York’ video, but then again that same knowing wink is present in tonight’s entire execution.

There’s no doubt that ‘style over substance’ will be criticism of tonight’s divisively experimental show; an odd conclusion to take away from ‘MASSEDUCTION’, it must be said. After all, it’s an album that hinges upon style - a powerful, super-feminised interpretation of glam rock. That style, however, is also imbued with substance. An incisive dissection of power’s many forms; ranging from Annie Clark’s own growing fame (which has unfolded in popcorn-munching, tabloid Soap Opera format over the last few years) to the ways in which we seduce, and are seduced continually by adverts, kinks, money, and desires, St Vincent’s decision to withhold everything that’s expected of her is surely the entire point.

Photos: Emma Swann / DIY