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Performance Review: St. Vincent at 9:30

March 15, 2014 | 2:56pm EST

Annie Clark, better known by her nom de guerre St. Vincent, dragged the guerre to the stage this past Sunday, March 2nd for the second performance of a two-night stint at the 9:30 Club. Both shows sold out weeks in advance, and needless to say the venue was packed with fans eager to hear work off of her self-titled fourth album dropped just a week earlier. After the completely underwhelming warm-up artist Holly Herndon wrapped up a 30 minute set of organ-rattling bass lines and ambient moaning, St. Vincent and company finally strutted on stage. Opening with the first track off of her new album, “Rattlesnake,” the audience was immediately revved for an incredible set. Following with “Digital Witness,” “Cruel,” and later “A Mouth Full of Blood,” it was obvious that she’d be mixing up her set list and pulled from her entire discography (the complete set list can be found here).

I’ll admit I rarely sit through an entire St. Vincent album, largely because the songs can get tedious. Her work is an incredibly precise interpretation of chaos, as if every musical knot and tangle were positioned with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. While intricate, I usually find myself wishing for some basic foundation of musical meat that goes missing from her music in its sterile, pre-recorded form. Live, St. Vincent is a completely different story. Every song had a new sense of grounded urgency and anchored power, and the flexibility of each track allowed her to deviate from the recording without pissing off the fans.

That’s not to say that St. Vincent was any less in control. In fact, Annie controlled her show like a storm cloud on a taught leash; her music had a seemingly delicate and tenuous entry, only to be followed by rolling, distorted power-riffs extracted from her guitar with confident dexterity. And even though she played her usual wide-eyed, broken doll gimmick, every once in awhile you could catch her breaking character with a satisfied half-smile, an expression that said, “This is what I do for a living and it’s fucking awesome.” These moments where the audience could see that she took herself seriously, but not too seriously helped the show walk St. Vincent’s signature fine line between music and performance art. Her avant-garde dress, robotic movements, and occasionally screechy singing were a little heavy-handed. Had she not subtly broken character or stopped to chat with the audience, the concert could have easily slipped into pretentious art-house territory.

If anything, St. Vincent is a calculated storyteller. Maybe not in the traditional narrative sense, but her Sunday performance had a definitive arch and resolution. After closing the show with a powerhouse performance of the psycho dance party tune “Krokodil,” Annie Clark tiptoed back on stage for a heartbreakingly raw acoustic version of “Strange Mercy,” allowing the audience a moment of reflection. When the encore ended with “Your Lips Are Red,” you could tell the audience was reluctant to call it a night. For two hours, St. Vincent had expertly rattled through her repertoire, inviting her fans along for the ride. And even if you’re like me and don’t quite get her style, St. Vincent is certainly one not to miss.

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