Music journalists appreciate artists who consistently challenge themselves to create something that defies norms which is one reason St. Vincent, nee Annie Clark has ingratiated herself to rock critics who have frankly, been starved for innovative music from acts that intellectually stimulates the listener beyond interesting aural textures. That may sound a bit heady but St. Vincent’s performances tend to have an elevating effect on music fans of all stripes. Her work speaks for itself in its originality. It’s exceptional art. This is an artist who considers all aspect of performance carefully and the results show. Thursday’s night one of a two-night stand at ACL Live highlighted those qualities in Clark’s work and then some.
Already accepted as a guitar goddess, St. Vincent set out with her latest release, to conquer the pop world with a concept that feels genuine and real in its presentation which is hard to do in that context. Her stage production shared a similar monochrome aesthetic to Solange’s recent tour yet, she pulled it off with more style and flair than anyone else. And she did it as a solo act, without benefit of a backing band behind her to lend more variety into the show. It was stunning how well she managed the feat, opening with a brilliantly simple black curtain that was open a crack, spotlights on the performer, then progressively opened as Clark worked her way from left to right, arranging the setlist into two parts. The first set was comprised of select cuts from her discography in chronological order, underlining the visual effect of moving laterally across the stage with each new song, moving both figuratively and literally across the timeline of her career.
The context of the show, futuristic pop-rock demanded a room with the sound quality of ACL Live. St. Vincent maxed out that potential kicking off the set with “Marry Me,” the title track off her 2007 debut. The ballad highlighted Clark’s vocal range and provided a soft launch pad for an exquisite, two-hour art-rock masterpiece. Cheers of recognition came with “Cheerleader”, then “Strange Mercy.” The latter track being the piece that grabbed our attention at St. Vincent’s NPR Showcase performance at SXSW several years ago. It was as this point in the performance, the plain black curtain was completely pulled back to reveal a gigantic, multi-colored mural of a stylized representation of a woman’s face as if the artist had been commanded to create in 8-bit graphics It was apparent Clark is a force. The “Masseduction Tour” underlined that point in heavy black marker.
Not one to banter with her audiences much, Clark waited until completing the fourth song in her set before acknowledging the crowd, “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here in Texas!” reminding fans her roots are in the state, hailing from Dallas. The singer was once of member of orchestral rock collective, The Polyphonic Spree before setting out on her own trailblazing path. As the first set ended and St. Vincent left the stage for a a brief change-over and costume change, we had time to consider the fact that all the older songs got a “pop treatment” for this tour, rendering them anew and relevant to the material presented on Masseduction which was played from start to finish second set. Yet another brilliant element of the production.
Later in show, Clark made a humorous and half-hearted attempt at improvising a little song about Austin, invoking Barton Springs Pool among other notable spots in town. The moment felt authentic, unplanned and frankly it was just plain cute how she interacted with the audience. It is clear Austin holds a special place in St. Vincent’s heart. The feeling is mutual. Clark indeed holds a special place in the hearts of Austin music fans as evidenced by the posts on social media leading into, during and after the astounding solo performance St. Vincent turned in. Keeping an audience interested for 120 minutes is no easy feat with a full band, but Clark handled the task alone with artful grace, gently, then more forcefully pulling music fans along on a carefully composed art-rock odyssey.
St. Vincent left the audience with “Smoking Section” deliberately forgoing an encore for a polished finish. We left the theater satiated, mouth agape at the singular talent that is St. Vincent, realizing her album title had achieved its aim in seducing not only us, but an entire theatre of music fans. There were plenty of folks at the Moody Thursday who’d never seen St. Vincent perform before. We guarantee they’re rabid fans now. Add pop goddess to St. Vincent’s resume.