‘If you’ve never seen Annie Clark live before, tonight is sure to be a revelation‘ – Siobhán Kane on St. Vincent‘s Iveagh Gardens show
If you’ve never seen Annie Clark live before, tonight is sure to be a revelation; resplendent in black leather, she glides on to the stage like a 21st century rendering of Suzi Quatro. I couldn’t help but think of how far she has come from her early visits to Dublin, and her show in the Sugar Club on a dark November night in 2007, a stones throw away, but it seems like a different world, now. That night, her performance was playful and intimate, as she played songs from her debut record Marry Me.
Tonight in the magical surroundings of Iveagh Gardens, Clark is on her fourth solo record, last year’s St. Vincent, and she is no less playful, if a little mannered. In the last number of years, Clark has explored performance as a key part of her work, her live shows have started to resemble theatrical pieces, and working with choreographer Anni-B Parson has provided a certain style in terms of her movement, as she totters backwards, forwards, and side-to-side like some kind of spaced-out ballerina set free from one of those music boxes.
But there is nothing truly spaced-out about Clark, everything is measured and mapped out, from her talking in-between songs, to her precise robot-dancing, or sloping down the huge steps that form part of her set design.
Along with her stellar band, Daniel Minsteris, Toko Yasuda, and Matt Johnson, she provides a very particular musical aesthetic and atmosphere, which folds in heavy-rock, prog, pop, metal, jazz, and funk, it’s even there in the way she approaches her guitar, equally caressing and punishing it, as she shreds on something like Regret or Huey Newton, or the ways the drums whip on Prince Johnny, or the textured sonic layering of Digital Witness, and really, a lot of Clark’s music expresses her fascination with sonic textures, the layering, and the taking away, and usually not at the expense of a great melody, just think of something like the beautifully half-lit ballad Severed Crossed Fingers, which was a particular highlight.
There are some really commanding moments; Cheerleader has never sounded more of a declaration of hard-won independence, with pounding guitars climbing up to a melodic (and maybe, spiritual) release, the pop-driven Cruel is a joy, and Every Tear Disappears just soars, as she brings in lyrics from Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus – there are signposts to lots of influences like this, the brilliant David Byrne (her collaborator on album Love This Giant), Prince, Kate Bush, Miles Davis, Peter Gabriel, and Pink Floyd all come to mind when watching her perform.
Sometimes her mannered style falls short, where you dearly wish the mask would slip, and when she talks to the audience, it often feels like part of the performance, rather than in spite of it, yet there is the sense that she wants to connect, “we have something in common, you and I“, and while we know she says this is in every place she plays, we appreciate the sentiment. There was a palpable silence among the audience when she made a reference to our literary tradition, “Seamus O’Heaney” is not too well-known around here, but perhaps it’s all part of her sense of play.
Her encore is magnificent, as she is wheeled out on what seems like a hospital bed, for the sad and true The Party, then she takes us right back to the beginning, to her first record, and Your Lips Are Red, which is infatuated with infatuation, “my face is red from reading your red lips“, it’s a perfect ending, acknowledging her beginning. It’s exciting to see where she’ll take us, and herself, next.