Live Review

St. Vincent, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

It’s impossible to imagine Annie Clark doing anything at all without fearless, all-enveloping, and boundless conviction.

There are many items of criteria laid next to empty boxes, waiting patiently for a tick, by which you can judge an artist on stage. There’s polish, confidence, presence, musical prowess – all these things - and then there’s a final item that is more slippery. It’s a quality that few artists have, because it can’t be fluked. It’s the unshakeable feeling that the person up on stage does not do ordinary things like ordinary people.

St. Vincent exudes this indefinable essence in the gallons. It’s impossible to imagine her pausing with indecision when it comes to picking a meal deal from Sainsbury’s, or worrying about whether she needs a colour catcher when she puts on a white-wash. She seems like the kind of person who doesn’t need tube maps, and orders the secret items off McDonalds menus without doubting herself for even one little second. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine Annie Clark doing anything at all without fearless, all-enveloping, and boundless conviction.

The crazy erratic buzztooth of ‘Rattlesnake’ kicks in, opening the night, and Clark stands centre stage, looking intently through the room and jerking her head like a short-circuiting android from a Philip K. Dick novel. The beginning of the set is ‘St. Vincent’ heavy, but these songs elicit the same response as ‘Cruel’, ‘Year of the Tiger’ and ‘Cheerleader’ later on. It seems unbelievable that this is an airing of an album that isn’t even out yet. Annie Clark and guitar seem to be conjoined, and as she dances over frets, the melody lines fly out like groove-worms that burrow their way into your frontal lobe. It’s also effortless, and most of the time her hands seem to be making musical patterns by their own accord.

“Ladies, gentlemen, and…others,” says Clark, “I think we have a few things in common. You’ve made a hot air balloon out of bedsheets. You were bummed out when it didn’t work. But you still hoped”

These weird, ever-so-slightly disarming observations continue between songs, and although it’s most likely pre-planned, in St. Vincent’s alternate universe it seems as normal as shouting “hello Shepherds Bush!” instead. This show is, as a whole, choreographed, which gives it a kind of theatrical sheen. During ‘Birth In Reverse’s relentless guitar section, Clark and a backing guitarist move alternately in parallel lines, or more accurately, glide in a strange sort of limbless stop-motion shuffle. ‘Huey Newton’ grows into an extended blues-flavoured jam, and at the end of ‘I Prefer Your Love’, Clark takes off her guitar and holds it outstretched, before a member of stage-crew appears and trots over to take it from her. Instead of the usual creeping around in the dark, it’s lit and totally visible, and just a bit meta. St. Vincent continually takes what is normal at a live show, scrunches it up, and opens her hands again to show paper taking on the shape of something magic and unlike anything else.

Annie ends her set with a batshit crazy descent into prog-rock shredder-guitar mayhem, and the encore isn’t full of the choices that you would expect from anybody else. A stripped down version of ‘The Bed’ and the equally sinister abrasion of ‘Your Lips Are Red’ - taken from Clark’s debut ‘Marry Me’ - close instead, and it wouldn’t be right any other way. Intense, befuddling, formidable, and fearsomely talented, Annie Clark is doing things the St. Vincent way, and it works extraordinarily.

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