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St. Vincent Reaffirms Guitar Goddess Status at Tour Kick-Off: Concert Review

St. Vincent - P 2014
Courtesy of Paul Familetti

The Bottom Line

Minimal theatrics offer a polished showcase for Annie Clark's new songs.

Venue

Terminal 5
New York City
(Wednesday, Feb. 26)

Famous people are often greeted by admirers who believe, based on having seen their work and maybe read some interviews, they know them. But in the era of Facebook and the NSA, the illusion of intimacy is not limited to movie stars and musicians. On the first U.S. date of her Digital Witness tour, St. Vincent turned the tables.

"It's sort of like I already know you," singer Annie Clark told the audience, before rattling off some of her telepathic insights, which ranged from straightforward facts (our favorite word, she's sure, is "orgiastic") to poignant little anecdotes from our emotionally complicated childhoods. Anyone in the audience who actually did try to make a hot-air balloon out of bedsheets must have nearly fainted at the thought, "My God, she really does know me!"

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Clark limited these revelations to a few fine-tuned interludes in an otherwise banter-free set, and the artifice of their delivery represented neither "Hello, New York!"-style showmanship nor informal chumminess: The speeches were like a performance-art script that was tempted to break free and reciprocate the intense, one-way connection felt by many in the crowd at this sold-out show. That two-way connection didn't materialize (does anyone connect with anything at Terminal 5, a terrible place to see music that has often been compared, rightly, to the Death Star?); in its place, the crowd was content to marvel at Clark's live-wire guitar playing and the enjoy band's delivery of songs from an excellent, self-titled fourth album, which arrived in stores earlier this week.

Almost all of that LP's songs showed up in the set, from the fuzzy Moog-driven "Rattlesnake" to "Huey Newton," which erupted midway through into guitar sounds worthy of a metal act. "Cheerleader," from Strange Mercy, was similarly arena-worthy, throbbing as the bandleader stood atop a small white ziggurat that was the black stage's only decoration. Other songs would see her reclining on its steps like a lounge singer (on "I Prefer Your Love," the only new track that might be called sluggish) or contorting wildly, as if in the throes of whatever energy guides her spastic, angular guitar solos.

Clark's movement worked best when she had her feet beneath her: Occasional bits of choreography by Annie-B Parson found her and keyboard-guitarist Toko Yasuda inching up- and down-stage with the least possible movement of their legs, as if they were stiff puppets in a stop-motion film.

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Parson also worked with St. Vincent on her recent tour with David Byrne, in support of their collaborative LP Love This Giant. (Byrne was in the audience Wednesday, as was Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein, though he didn't make the appearance onstage some may have expected.) That tour, with a squad of choreographed horn players sometimes wandering the stage, offered more visual appeal than this one. But what the production lacked in theatricality it made up for in its crafted presentation of the songs and its showcasing of Clark's guitar playing. Drummer Matt Johnson and keyboardist Daniel Mintseris attracted little attention to themselves, but proved enormously flexible when bringing older tunes -- like "Your Lips Are Red," from St. Vincent's 2007 debut, which closed the evening -- into line with the songwriter's present-tense style.

The singer may still be finding her way toward an enduring stage persona: While the new album's cover photo suggests a queen of some haute-couture alien world, in the flesh she's not certain how to relate to her eager subjects. But her music could hardly be more sure of itself.

Set List:

Rattlesnake
Digital Witness
Cruel
Birth in Reverse
Regret
Laughing With a Mouth of Blood
I Prefer Your Love
Pieta
Every Tear Disappears
Surgeon
Cheerleader
Prince Johnny
Year of the Tiger
Marrow
Huey Newton
Bring Me Your Loves
Northern Lights
Krokodil

Encore:

Strange Mercy
The Bed
Your Lips Are Red

Courtesy of Paul Familetti