How to Mesmerize An Audience
St. Vincent’s live show at the Pabst was a stunning mix of show biz and seductive music.
In support of her fourth, self-titled album, St. Vincent played to a sold- out Turner Hall crowd on Friday night, and it was an experience in every sense of the word. Known off-stage as Annie Clark, the former member of the Polyphonic Spree embarked on a singer-songwriter career seven years ago with a blend of electronically-powered pop and indie rock and cabaret and chamber thrown in for good measure. The result is a special brand of music that’s unique and unpredictable.
Opening the show was Noveller, the ambient solo project of Brooklyn-based Sarah Lipstate. With 13 different releases dating back to 2005, she’s an established veteran whose music used to feature just her guitar, but added synthesizers and other effects on her latest 2013 release No Dreams. A synth was present on stage, but using mostly her mainstay guitar and a slew of effects pedals, she created ambient sounds capable of painting a scene in your mind. Deep space and in the woods were common pictures dancing through my head, occasionally interrupted by sounds that were, at times, a bit too piercing and avant-garde. The crowd, however, was appreciative, especially by opening act standards.
Then St. Vincent entered, stage right. Even as the backing band was just beginning the opening song “Rattlesnake” off the new album, the Turner Hall faithful were already mesmerized by a robotic dance done by the woman herself. The audience remained enthralled for the entire 18 song set and three song encore, which was one of the most well-put together live show experiences I’ve ever seen. From stage design to choreography and lighting design to the ordering of songs, this was a show that a lot of thought and planning went into creating. The mix of strobe lights and movement continually surprised, and amazingly, it never felt too over the top, even as St. Vincent was slowly and dramatically falling down a set of risers to end “Prince Johnny.”
The set list relied heavily on the new self-titled album, but tracks from all four studio albums made the cut, as well as a crowd-pleasing cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” a tribute to the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. It was an intense, high-energy show throughout, and one member of the three-piece backing band even joined in for the dance and choreography. Above her pay grade, surely, but it’s hard not to play along with a show as infectious as this. The music was cut up by three different monologues by St. Vincent that provided half-silly, half-thoughtful insight into the personality of a unique character. We were greeted first with “good evening, ladies and gentlemen… And good evening, others” and a later story about forgetting your glasses and imposing faces of famous people on crowds of blurry strangers, to which one member of the crowd shouted that he pictures everybody as St. Vincent. Annie’s reply: that must be a scary world.
This was a consistently compelling and polished show; The sound was crisp and studio-like (made easy by being almost entirely electronic) but was in no way rigid or lifeless. With a much lower budget than more established pop stars, St. Vincent has created quite a live showcase. This is an artist who is clearly hitting her stride.