June 18, 2009
Better than: the first time you watch Bambi.
There she stood on stage, impossibly cherubic and near-porcelain with her noir-ish good looks, appearing oh-so-innocent one moment and possessed by something evil the next.
It's an alluring duality indeed, watching St. Vincent perform her nightmarish twee pop in person. One minute, you fear you might break her if you even so much as breathe the wrong way; the next, you're ready to duck and cover for fear that a spastic reaction to one of her typically fierce guitar shredding fits might result in a fret being lodged into your temple.
So, yes, there was something perhaps poetic at play when Dallas native Annie Clark greeted the crowd at the Granada Theater last night, standing behind a double-headed mic-stand, back-lit by the stage lights and under-lit by the adoring front row fans snapping away on their cameras. For a moment--albeit a brief one--Clark stood smiling at the crowd, looking as angelic as ever, as her shadow behind her offered a slight tweak to the same basic thing: In this dark outline a few feet behind her, the two microphones sticking out from either side of her head gave off the illusion of devil horns.
You can't make this stuff up, really. Sometimes, a performance just feels blessed.
It helped, of course, how revering the near-sold out crowd was to the now Brooklyn-based artist who was raised in Dallas and cut her teeth performing with local favorites The Polyphonic Spree. And as Clark bounced through a 13-song set of tracks from her debut, Marry Me, and, more prominently, from her May-released sophomore album, Actor, the crowd showed that it too had two sides to share: the loud side that made its appreciation of the performance well-known through its cheers; and the shell-shocked one that was so stunned, not a single person even dared whisper over the hushed sounds of Clark and her backing four-piece band's intricate instrumentation.
It was truly a case of a crowd being moved to mush in the hands of its draw. When Clark coyly cooed like a 14-year-old girl greeting her 11-year-old admirers ("Hey Dal-las...! Hey, hometown!"), the crowd practically swooned at the fact that it had been recognized as it hoped it would.
But it wasn't all simple courtship; Clark justified every bit of the almost-excessive praise that would be thrown upon her by the crowd as it giddily chatted about the show afterwards on the theater's front patio. Over the course of the night, from the flirtatious opening of "Marry Me" and the more-rocking "Actor Out Of Work" to the heartbreaking "Paris is Burning" and the crowd-favorite "Marrow," Clark consistently revealed new layers of herself to the audience, constantly showcasing her impressive songwriting, arranging, and--most notably--her freakish guitar-playing skills, which find Clark thrown into spastic fits where the guitar seems to control her motions more so than the other way around.
Given the adoring air in the room last night, no, not a single soul was fooled when, for less than a minute, 11 songs into the night, St. Vincent and her backing band disappeared behind the stage's back curtain. They knew she'd be back one more time, although not for too long.
When she did return, the crowd knowingly cherished the increasingly fleeting moments it would share with the performer.
So, 10 minutes later, when the (in total) 75-minute set came to its end, and Clark thanked her audience for coming to the show, the audience, rather than immediately rush out of the door, cheered back emphatically, making certain that the artist knew that the appreciation was, without a doubt, reciprocated.
Personal Bias: We've been covering St. Vincent plenty in anticipation of her recently released disc and in advance of this show looming on the horizon, I know. But it's not necessarily because I'm a fan; there were plenty of news value judgments at play in those coverage decisions. So am I some sort of superfan? Not really. I dig it, though, for sure. I mean, it's really hard to deny Annie Clark's twisted vision of pop music, with its flourishes of classical and angular rock elements. Plus, Actor really is one of the best releases in this otherwise pretty lackluster year so far.
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Random Note: The show was apparently just 20 tickets away from being a sell-out--but that's a bit of a misleading stat. The room at the Granada was set up for a 700-person audience (as opposed to its full-capacity 1,200), with chairs on the balcony and in the sides of the main floor.
By The Way: I didn't make it to the show in time to catch opening act Pattern is Movement, who I'm told impressed with a few interesting choices of cover material... So that sucks.
1. "Marry Me"
2. "The Strangers"
3. "Save Me From What I Want"
4. "Now Now"
5. "Actor Out Of Work"
6. "Paris Is Burning"
7. "The Bed"
8. "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood"
9. "Black Rainbow"
11. "Just the Same But Brand New"
E1. "The Party" (with Pattern is Movement's Andrew Thiboldeaux)
E2. "Your Lips Are Red" (with Pattern is Movement's Andrew Thiboldeaux)