Was there ever even the possibility that this show would be anything less than brilliant? Last time St Vincent graced these shores, she and David Byrne basically won Electric Picnic, with a set that saw her go toe-to-toe with one of the undisputedly great frontmen, and effortlessly stay on par with him at every step. With her fourth masterpiece just released and a sold-out crowd at her mercy, it’d be all too easy for her to phone it in and get by. In actuality, she takes a heady mix of robotic choreography, guitar wizardry and cryptic, brilliant stage banter and offers up one of the gigs of the year thus far.
The show kicks off just as her new self-titled record does, with the dizzying, cyber-funk of ‘Rattlesnake’. For someone with a style famous for its unpredictable lurches and swerves, the level of control she exerts over the show is incredible. She dances across the stage perfectly in sync with guitarist Toko Yasuda and plays every knotty, infectious guitar line as if she could do it in her sleep. She keeps pace with a strong frontload of material, with ‘Digital Witness’ and the expected, but still jubilant, sing-along of ‘Cruel’ following next.
A few songs in and the show’s whole aesthetic is deeply reminiscent of her former bandleader Sufjan Steven’s Age of Adz show in 2011 in this very venue. In both cases the artists once known for their artsy, slightly old-fashioned work were showcasing their new embrace of a futurism heavily informed by their own voice. The two artists had previously flirted with electronics and were now openly celebrating the endless directions they could push their sound in, and both were using sensuous choreography to contrast the extravagant technology with the simplicity of the body.
That may sound deeply pretentious, but Annie Clark has such an overwhelming stage presence that there is a substantial temptation to try garb it in all sorts of ridiculous notions just to try contain it. One minute she’s threatening to rupture the venue with the colossal chorus of ‘Cheerleader’ and next she’s sitting on her podium, crooning a gorgeous ‘Prince Johnny’. And we have to talk about that guitar work. Easily one of the most singular players in pop music today, Clark’s quick, deft fretwork (‘Surgeon’) and shameless love of noise is even more powerful in the flesh, as she throws herself around the stage as if the screeching riffs themselves are shoving her about.
The set is heavy on the new album, in no bad way, with ‘Huey Newton’, ‘Every Tear Disappears’, and the impossibly catchy ‘Birth in Reverse’ whetting the appetite of anyone yet to hear it. When she draws from her back catalogue, as she does with the brilliant ‘Laughing With A Mouth of Blood’ and ‘Year of the Tiger’, it accentuates the bug-eyed, paranoid undercurrent always present in her work, and now coming to the fore.
After ending the body of the set with the frenetic punk of ‘Krokodil’, we’re treated to an encore of the fan pleasing ‘The Bed’ and ‘Your Lips Are Red’. Though she’s comfortably been a critic’s darling and cult favourite for years now, Annie Clark is now something far more than that. With a show that brings together a look, sound and presence to winning effect, she’s quite simply an icon in the making.
See more of Shannon McClean’s photos from the night here.