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Photos: St. Vincent Previews New Album At Exuberant Concert
Do we deserve Annie Clark?
In an era where everyone mourns rock's supposed death, St. Vincent shreds on the guitar, her reverb filling an audience with enough vibrations to cross the chasm between despair and hope, between reality and our projections. She is a rock star, full stop.
On Saturday night on the New York Street of the Paramount Pictures backlot, St. Vincent brought the weight of her power on stage for the first major concert of this year's Red Bull Music Academy Festival. Her set spanned her entire career; the first half showcased her greatest hits from Marry Me to her most recent self-titled album, and for the second half she played the entire tracklist from her forthcoming MASSEDUCTION, which will be released on October 13. Her lithe body wielded her guitar—that powerful, self-designed, Ernie Ball instrument—and set her audience in a trance and brought out screaming and dancing and the pure unashamedness that comes with seeing a real pop star on stage.
St. Vincent's stardom has its own shape. She incorporates avant-garde sounds alongside her soaring voice; her guitar riffs exchange notes with seamless electronic production for the Boiler Room era. She is personal and conceptual. She does not shy away from vulnerability, but manages to retain her own enigma—as much as she decries contemporary social patterns, she is a rock star of the digital age, the mass production age, the age where even familiarity can turn cold.
For the first half of the concert, as she ran through her biggest hits, she led the audience on a cathartic trip while wearing a hot pink bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots. She oscillated between feminine exuberance and rage, showing how a beating heart contains more power than a festering wound. She can scream "cruel" at the top of her lungs while her tempo speeds up, feet start dancing, audience members grin and wiggle and give their hearts to Annie Clark, because the world is cruel, yes, but isn't it good and true to try and transcend the pain? She moves into "Cheerleader," and we believe her—she doesn't want to hold the weight of someone else's life in her hands—but she's holding all of our lives with every shred of the guitar.
For the second half of the show, she put on a silver bodycon dress with separate teal sleeves, and she performed with the visuals of her new album projected behind her. Those visuals, which come from her Willo Perron-directed music videos for MASSEDUCTION and her short film with Carrie Brownstein, work in a surreal and objectified environment. Familiar objects and food transform into hyper-colorized versions of their original selves. She occupies a manicured and aestheticized world in the visual work for her new album, and the world turns sterile. St. Vincent roboticizes herself alongside the objects, asking whether the world has become sterile at the hands of humans, or whether our hands have become sterile by interacting with the world.
The St. Vincent of her visuals is not the St. Vincent on stage, though. As she sang through the entire album, it became clear the track list for the new album occupies two spaces: the what-is-wrong-with-our-world milieu of "Los Ageless," and the deeply personal loss of connection of "New York." In her new song "Pills," humanity's functionality gets reduced to the medicine we use to prop it up; in "Happy Birthday Johnny," she longs for an answer to the life of a long-lost friend, and tries her hardest not to blame herself for his suffering.
St. Vincent took her name from the Nick Cave song "There She Goes, My Beautiful World," in which he sings "And Dylan Thomas died drunk in/St. Vincent's hospital." In Dylan Thomas' poem "I have longed to move away," he writes:
I have longed to move away but am afraid;
Some life, yet unspent, might explode
Out of the old lie burning on the ground,
And, crackling into the air, leave me half-blind.
In the poem he writes about the growing power of a lie, and how a desire to escape the lie will only grant it more power to wreak havoc on the world as we know it. St. Vincent sings and screams about the lies in our contemporary world, knowing to capitulate to them will only increase their all-consuming power. So, instead, she takes her guitar and her savant-level skills and cries into the audience's void about the perils we face, without ever losing sight of the toll those lies can take.
Red Bull Music Academy Festival, welcome to Los Angeles. You're doing great.
A list of the future RBMA Festival events can be found on their website.