Concert Reviews

Last Night + Picture Show: St. Vincent at the Kessler Theater

St. Vincent
Kessler Theater
October 23, 2011

Better than:
missing out on all three of Annie Clark's hometown performances this weekend.

This much is clear, just as it always has been: Dallas loves its own, and especially those who love it back.

Fortunate, then, that Annie Clark, the Oklahoma-born, Dallas-bred artist who performs under the St. Vincent moniker, was willing to play ball at the Kessler Theater last night.

Sure, it was her second performance in as many nights at the Kessler -- her third in two days if you count her Sunday afternoon acoustic in-store performance at Good Records -- but Clark's final Dallas offering this weekend still proved quite the treat for its audience. And how: The only things more prevalent at this show than the cries of "We love you Annie!" that erupted from the audience were Clark's own anecdotes of affection for the city in which she was raised.

Those stories -- jokes about the Texas Rangers' World Series chances, the repeated sharing of the fact that her recent Strange Mercy release was recorded less than two miles from the theater with John Congleton, insider references to area mainstays such as Premiere Video -- would have to wait, though. First, as expected, there was the dramatic entrance.

The theater was near pitch-black when it came, but the audience could sense Clark's presence walking onto the stage nonetheless. They cheered enthusiastically. Then, as they would be throughout the night, the crowd and Clark became awash in harsh but beautiful strobes of light of near every shade. The night began with Clark, backed by a drummer and two keyboardists, performing the final cut on Strange Mercy, "Year of the Tiger."

And, for the most part, this is where her focus remained throughout the rest of the evening. There were, of course, dalliances and nods to her other material as well, but this was to be, without question, a Strange Mercy-intensive affair. And fitting: Clark is no longer the ornate figure she was in the immediate wake of her Actor album's release in 2009, when she played the Granada Theater during her last stop in town.

She remains an endearing performer, but, these days, she's grittier, more content to embrace a darker muse. It showed in "Cheerleader," in "Actor," in "Marrow," in "Cruel," but most especially in a choice cover song that came around the half-hour mark in those over hour-long offering. Perhaps there was some metaphorical double-meaning implied by Clark's choice to cover the Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil," but, mostly, it provided her an outlet to get truly heavy with her performance. As the light fixtures erratically and chaotically shot beams throughout the theater and cascading around the performer, Clark appeared a woman possessed. Her body thrashed in tandem with her possessed guitar as she smiled with evil glee and cackled while glancing back at her drummer.

It was an intense moment. And a welcome one. Clark has long been hailed not only as an impressive artist, but as an impressive performer -- a far more exploratory, gritty performer than her appearance would imply. On "Beyond Good and Evil," this much was on full display.

Her softer side was, too, of course: "The Party," in particular, saw Clark eschewing her guitar for a more vocal-intensive offering.

But, as has always been the case with this performer, it was the duality of these two polar opposites that most impressed. Her sets on Saturday and Sunday night might not have differed too greatly, Clark conceded after the show, but they could have. It could have been strategic: One night could've been delicate, the other heavy.

In the end, it's best that this wasn't the case. Without one, the other isn't nearly as jarring, nor does it so greatly impress.

On this night, though, with her full range on display, Clark very much impressed. True, her reverential audience would likely have been pleased regardless. But, at least for one night, their faith was not blind.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
What's not to love about St. Vincent or Clark's especially impressive work since collaborating with John Congleton? Theirs is among the most interesting collaborations currently going in music, in my opinion.

By The Way: Midlake's McKenzie Smith and Pleasant Grove's Jeff Ryan, the two drummers who appeared on each of Clark's two most recent releases, were in attendance last night and appeared pleased with the efforts of their touring replacement.

Random Note: After the show, Clark said that she was pleased with the in-store performance earlier in the day at Good Records, if only because it allowed her to run into some old friends. "I've probably bought half of the music that I own from Chris Penn," she said with a laugh.

Bonus Video of Clark performing "The Party" at the Kessler on Saturday night:

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman