Recap: St. Vincent at Union Transfer

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For a brief second during Wednesday night’s performance, Annie Clark—the porcelain-faced indie-pop chanteuse behind St. Vincent—slipped out of character. Up to that point in the evening, she had stayed true to the pristine, Stepford-wife-who-secretly-shreds persona she has cultivated over the last few years. (Regardless of whatever shifts in musical direction Clark has made since her sophomore album, Actor, was released in 2009, her image remains exactly the same; on posters, album covers, and promotional photos, she always holds her head high, her narrow features made up just enough to accentuate her fawn-like fragility.) Clark is, in some ways, a strange contradiction: a dainty, girlish sliver of a human being who rocks really hard. But, with such a hyper-maintained image, it’s hard to know what’s fake and what’s genuine—until she let it slip about a third of the way into her set.

The show took off to a ferocious start, an inverse of the typical trajectory that most artists stick to. Rather than start slow, Clark played her seven most popular tracks first. She opened, predictably, with “Surgeon.” Her slender fingers danced up and down the guitar strings while she switched between her two masks: When singing, her eyebrows shot up and she took on a look of innocence; as soon as she reached an instrumental, however, she would tuck her chin down and stare into the crowd with a flirty grin. The next few tracks followed a similar pattern of flipping between the two personalities. Her second song was “Cheerleader,” and during the jubilant revelation “I don’t want to be a cheerleader” in the chorus, a radiant bliss seemed to shine through her eyes. For her third song, she played a throwback: “Save Me From What I Want” from Actor. After another impressively controlled performance of chaos, Clark paused in the set to tell a story that would say more about her than any of her lyrics.

“I shot a video for the next song,” she began, “Where a bunch of people had to cry in front of me.” The crowd cheered, knowing what she would play, but hushed quickly when they realized she wasn’t finished. “It was very difficult to watch that many people cry in front of me and when shooting was over, I just broke down. It was really hard, even though they were fake crying.” She paused, let a look of doe-eyed innocence linger, and then slipped into a mischievous grin. “Only, the thing about fake crying is, you can’t fake cry.” With that, she launched full force into “Actor Out Of Work.” Her guitar trumpeted victoriously; the intensity with which she sang distinguished her live rendition from the studio recording of the song. At the end, she literally screamed, “I think I’m fucking mad!,” an ad-lib at the height of a wild performance, that—paired with her anecdote—seemed to put her entire image into focus. The real Annie Clark is at the core of the St. Vincent persona, even if that’s just to say that Annie Clark is extremely complicated and a talented actress.

The rest of the show careened between slower songs and rock anthems. In her enthusiasm for polar opposites, she covered “She’s Beyond Good And Evil” by The Pop Group and followed it up with her tracks, “Northern Lights” (which included a theremin solo) and “Year Of The Tiger.” Her encore was surprisingly anticlimactic: she closed with “Your Lips Are Red,” which—like her set—began with a thunderstorm of light and sound, but left the audience reeling when the song ended on a sweetly fragile note. —Naomi Shavin

Set List:
Surgeon
Cheerleader
Save Me from What I Want
Actor Out of Work
Chloe in the Afternoon
Dilettante
Cruel
Just the Same But Brand New
Champagne Year
Neutered Fruit
Strange Mercy
She’s Beyond Good and Evil (Cover)
Northern Lights
Year of the Tiger
Marrow
Encore:
The Party
Your Lips Are Red

  • Heather

    This is remarkably well written. Thanks for sharing. Wish I could’ve been there.

  • Heather

    This is remarkably well written. Thanks for sharing. Wish I could’ve been there.