Review and photos – St. Vincent at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Oct 12 2011
– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Anja Weber
A sparse but enthusiastic crowd attended the St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, show at the Commodore Ballroom this past Wednesday. Those who made it out on the chilly night were dressed to the nines – ladies in their pristine top knots and flow-y tunic blouses, men with their starched shirts and tapered jeans. The vintage ensembles in the audience matched Clark’s refurbished old-Hollywood look.
From out of a soft fog, the guitar goddess emerged in a short green smock with long, chained sleeves, and immediately enchanted everyone with her Audrey Hepburn features and soft but haunting voice on the opening track “Cruel”. The latter comes from St. Vincent’s third and latest full-length release Strange Mercy.
The singer/guitarist’s non-cookie cutter approach was best expressed in the dark, emotionally drenched “Cheerleader”. The outro climaxes with distorted guitars and Clark belting “I don’t wanna be a dirt eater no more”.
One thing’s for certain, she is no uniform-clad, choreographed ditz with a Valley Girl accent. Though she thrashes her guitar with a sharp ferocity, there is something incredibly calm and effortless about her performance. She is similar to to Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel in that both women project auras of effortless cool that draw the admiration and respect from everyone in their vicinity.
More of St. Vincent’s eclectic methods came through on the analogous “Actor Out of Work” and the country-bluesy “Save Me From What I Want”. She channeled a little bit of Stevie Ray Vaughan on the latter, with a coarse boogie solo that featured her signature hammer-ons and pull-off combos. The spiraling “Chloe In the Afternoon” pays tribute to the 1972 Eric Rohmer film, indicating her cinephile tendencies.
The audience caught more glimpses of the mental process that goes into St. Vincent’s songwriting when she described the story behind one of her tracks. Apparently, one of Clark’s close interior designer friends was commissioned by an extremely affluent New York socialite to renovate her posh 1950’s apartment. Her employer’s condition was simply that she wanted the end product to be “Just the Same Brand New”, the title of Clark’s song. The ensuing slow jam proved that great inspiration often comes in the simplest and most unlikely forms.
What was immediately apparent in St. Vincent’s performance was an uncontrived depth and intellect in her songwriting and overall presence. Her melody lines veer on the classical end of the musical scale, but her guitar riffs are raw, somewhat messy and sometimes abstract. A one-of-a-kind artist, it’s easy to see why she ditched the rigid school structure (Clark attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music for three years) and paved her own way in the industry.