If hometown performer Annie Clark has proven anything to Dallas in her flight to fame, it's that she's a veritable rock god. Sunday night in performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, she proved without misstep that she doesn't just shred with the best of 'em, she also writes music that is symphonically inclined. She's magisterial as a performer and a musician, and she can cast a spell over an audience. Because in spite of packing the Winspear Opera House with fans who hooted and hollered after every song, they didn't move a muscle. In an audience of more than 2,000 people at one of the most powerful rock concerts the hall is likely to host, less than a dozen audience members stood, which can only be explained by the stupefying magic of St. Vincent and the DSO.
Another explanation for an audience that made slugs look lively is the change of venue, and it containing a large majority of the AT&T Performing Arts Center subscriber base, who are, shall we say, not typical rock concert attendees. The concert was part of this month's inaugural SOLUNA festival, helmed by the DSO, which mixes art with music and music with performance in ways that are mostly interesting. Putting St. Vincent on the stage with the DSO was in keeping with initiatives by both the DSO and other symphony orchestras in Dallas and around the country. Last April, Ben Folds performed with the Dallas Pops in Strauss Square; this year, the same location was originally to be employed by the DSO for the festival, but the persistent rainfall demanded the concert be moved indoors. Which made the evening intimate, reverent and raw.
After a robotic voice read a note from St. Vincent requesting the experience not be seen through screens, the concert started with a compressed set of St. Vincent's music – just her and her band. She opened with "Birth in Reverse," from last year's Grammy-winning self-titled album. It would be safe to describe that song, album, Sunday's concert, and maybe her entire career as a tour de force without hyperbole. This first set included other tracks from that album including "Rattlesnake," and "Regret" — songs with smart lyrics, compact melodies, and dense instrumentation, showing off her skilled songwriting, and filled with her signature choreography, which utilizes small, alien-like movements. If news hit tomorrow that St. Vincent is an otherworldly creature gifted to the earth to elevate contemporary music it would be unsurprising. It would also explain the worship she inspires in fans.
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The centerpiece of Sunday's concert wasn't just Clark's mind-bogglingly impressive musical prowess, or her unusual and powerful stage presence, it was the collaboration with symphony. With orchestrations by David Campbell, and conducted by Karina Canellakis, the DSO proved an apt partner for St. Vincent. In a brief interlude without Clark at the mic, the DSO performed "Proven Badlands," a piece she wrote for a chamber music group based in NYC called YMusic. It was at once familiar Clark, with its thick, gooey melodies, but displayed a complicated structure that sounded like Philip Glass meets pop radio. The symphony, dressed in white jumpsuits like they were manning a space ship, sent the already compelling concert to the moon and back.
When Clark returned to stage, she stood back to back with Canellakis for a performance of “Cheerleader." In that song and for the remainder of the concert, the symphony swelled St. Vincent's music to a point that seemed nearly combustible. If at times the symphony seemed drowned out by the band, they also colored in moments in the songs pushing them into a nearly unending expanse. Perhaps her most recognized anthem "Digital Witness," with its critique of today's braggadocio social media culture, was the most compelling number, its brassy rhythms accentuated by the DSO.
It seems unfair to label this concert the most compelling entry in the SOLUNA festival thus far, but in St. Vincent, audiences were given a gripping concert filled with performance art, rock music and symphonic arrangement. By the end of the night, the audiences proved with a standing ovation that they weren't just staying in their seats for lack of ability, but out of wide-eyed respect for a genre-melting performance.