The scene at First Unitarian Church of Dallas may have seem a little eerie for some rock show regulars, compared to the usual whiskey soaked, smoke filled concert halls their clogged respiratory systems are used to by now.
It may have seem like an odd choice, but not for Annie Clark, the Dallas native now better known as reigning indie rock champion better known as St. Vincent. She grew up in the church when she was (as she described it) "a gawky 15-year-old with an acoustic guitar" and has since performed all over the world, most recently recording an album with Talking Heads singer David Byrne.
So the church was a fitting setting, even if the crowd has changed a little since those teenage years. This time around, former Sleater-Kinney guitarist and singer and Portandia star Carrie Brownstein was in attendance (she was traveling through our neck of the woods). It was clear from Clark's performance and demeanor that this show was a humbling homecoming experience, and the crowd was just as respectful.
The show started with a bit of hesitation as she first stepped out on the main stage, though there was no mistaking the presence of a world-renowned musician. She had a couple of stumbles at the start of her first song "Surgeon" as she tried to sync her backing track with her live guitar and vocal performances.
"This is not professional at all, but in the best case, it's human," she said. "And that's what we're here to celebrate tonight."
After three or four restarts, she kept a confident wave through the rest of her show. The crowd was rapt through it all, through the early, tenuous energy and the ease of the rest of her performance of other songs such as "Cheerleader" and "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood." The evening felt like a rare, private show, the type that grows by word of mouth to legend.
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It was mostly a reserved affair, but the mood picked up with "Cruel," which features a rockabilly-esque solo that sounded amazing live. Clark is plenty capable of making a racket even as the only musician on stage -- her loop pedal work was never more impressive than on "The Strangers."
Her performance, just like her career and musical accomplishments, gave her hometown crowd plenty to be proud of last Saturday. She put on a solid, heartfelt show filled with plenty of moments of joy, sorrow and self-effacing humor. It was a triumph of the sort many musicians aspire to when they're just gawky kids with acoustic guitars.