By Eric Zimmermann
Having a backup band makes quite a difference. The last time Annie Clark came to San Francisco – as the opening act for The National’s fall tour – she performed as a one-woman orchestra, singing, pedal-drumming, riffing and looping through her debut album, Marry Me. Clark (who performs as “St. Vincent”) is now headlining her own tour and has a full band to bring her lush compositions to life. ... (Click 'More' to read the full review)
And Marry Me demands the extra instrumentation. Dripping with romantic anticipation and youthful disappointment, the album alternates between dream- and nightmare-like orchestrations. Dramatic crescendos drop off into deathly quietness; child-like chants haunt the listener as Clark sings in a sweet soprano. It’s melodic, macabre and strikingly beautiful when it resists the temptation to become the soundtrack to an overwrought Broadway musical.
Playing at the Great American Music Hall last night, Clark – a former member of the Polyphonic Spree and backup instrumentalist for Sufjan Stevens – poured out all the quiet longing that fills her songs. At times, it seemed as though she was singing to a ghost, staring into the distance with vacant eyes. Perhaps she was looking for John, the love-interest she proposes to in the title track. No matter. Her trance only heightened the eerie noir-love mood that characterizes her music.
Despite the backup band, Clark couldn’t suppress her own multi-instrumentalist instincts. She took her turn on the keyboard, occasionally pulled out hand bells and used three different mics to distort her voice. But she seemed most at home on the guitar, sometimes twitching violently as she worked the upper frets. She even sent the band temporarily off stage for a solo guitar cover of the Beatles’ “Dig a Pony.”
Clark slowed down “Paris is Burning” to squeeze out some more drama and seemed truly pained during “All My Stars Are Aligned” when she admitted that there are no amulets, no charms / to bring you back to my arms. Live drums added an edge not present in the album, enough so that one could almost take Clark seriously when she thanked the audience for “coming out to the rock show.”
At times, however, Clark’s penchant for musical bravado bordered on self-indulgence. The distracting instrumental intros bore little if any resemblance to the songs they introduced. It would have also been nice if Clark spent as much time looking at the audience as her effects pedals, but I guess you can’t really blame her for feeling a bit stage-shy while singing lyrics like I’m crawling through landmines / just to feel where you are. In short, those coming to the show to get a more personal glimpse of Annie Clark would have been disappointed by a withdrawn, introspective performance. But for those who appreciate the spectacle of an artist absorbed in her work, St. Vincent delivered.
Better than: …the Polyphonic Spree
Personal Bias: “Marry me John, marry me John I’ll be so good to you.” If he says no, give me a call.
Random Detail: My girlfriend tells me Clark shops at Anthropologie.