I was stumped on the opening for this St. Vincent show review so I asked Frank for a little De Blase help. This is what he gave me:
It was a night of ugly guitar and ethereal beauty...
Like a cross between a wind up doll and Ziggy Stardust...
Frank reviewed St. Vincent's Jazz Fest performance with David Byrne back in 2013 and he jumped at the chance to shoot Annie Clark again, so the two of us met up at Water Street Music Hall to check out Thursday's sold-out show.
I'm not sure if the crowd knew what to expect from the opener, Jenny Hval. The Norwegian singer-composer was joined on stage by a producer and a projectionist (I think her only job was to operate the projector) for a set that seemed more art installation than concert. Over minimalist beats -- or on a couple of tracks experimental soundscapes, deep bass, and blips -- Hval worked through a stunning vocal range, varying her style from spoken-word soft whispers, or a poppier flow, to screams and sustained pitches.
There were no lights on the stage except for the use of a projector and screen displaying videos of a woman rubbing toilet paper on her face or blowing up a bag with air using a hand pump. On the last couple of songs the projectionist used a camera to throw up video of Hval singing and a video of the projectionist herself toying with a banana before finally eating it -- getting a classic Frank De Blase line, "Sometimes a banana is only a banana."
The set was interesting, beautiful, and weird -- but I'm not sure if it fully clicked with the crowd, given the talking and shuffling throughout the set. On the surface, it may not seem like the kind of performance you would normally see in a large rock venue, but it made sense for a St. Vincent set opener.
By the time St. Vincent took the stage at 9 p.m., the Water Street crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder and itching.
Annie Clark, the musician at the soul of St. Vincent, blows my mind. Not only is she a creative, innovative songwriter and part performance artist, but she can shred. You get the sense that she could rip out a jaw-dropping rock, blues, or metal solo in her sleep, but patiently bottles all of that energy into writing effects-heavy, thought-provoking material. (Although, there was plenty of unhinged guitar work Thursday night.)
"Rattlesnake" -- the set's first song -- started with Clark dancing robotically to an extended bass-heavy intro and ended with a bat out of hell solo, and a massive smile on her face. Her three-person backing band brought the chest-rattling bass, tight drums, and synth work.
St. Vincent's 2014 self-titled album builds on the idea of living in a digital world and how to disconnect from it. The band's live show subtly built on that -- more robotic dancing, an on-point light show that may have killed my retinas, and two monologues about universal connection -- as it worked through material pulled from all four St. Vincent albums.
Of course St. Vincent was gonna lean heavy on its 2014 album and a happy dose of 2011's "Strange Mercy," but it was cool to hear "Actor out of Work" (off 2009's "Actor) and "Your Lips Are Red" (off 2007's "Marry Me") get an update to St. Vincent's current tone. "Lips" was downright gritty and ominous when St. Vincent closed the night with it -- and Clark worked the guitar while riding a security guard's shoulders along the fence.
This wasn't just a band getting on stage to perform songs, this had a level of intensity and passion that I haven't seen in a while. There was thought and precision put into the full performance -- from the engaging, charismatic music to a choreographed robot dance between Clark and her accompanying guitarist -- and it was satisfying.
It's March. It's only f***ing March and I think I may have just seen my favorite show of 2015.