I first saw St. Vincent in 2010 in an intimate venue outside of San Diego. Not yet a seasoned performer, Annie Clark had already established herself as a must-see live act with her quirky charm and too-cool-for-school guitar moves. Following the release of her self-titled fifth album (if you include her David Byrne collaboration), St. Vincent has rebranded her image a bit. Her current tour has an appropriately digital, futuristic focus, ditching the strings and woodwinds of past performances. Her backing band now consists of a drummer and two keyboard/synth players, one of which also plays guitar.
As the house lights dimmed at Oakland’s Fox Theater on Saturday night, a robot voice requested that the crowd refrain from sharing their experience digitally. This proved to be too much to ask for some, and understandably so. Now a confident artist and performer, St. Vincent has pinned down nearly every aspect of her live shows from sound to costuming, lighting, set design, choreography, and even inspirational comedy. Her set, just shy of two hours, was a truly theatrical experience and an early contender for show of the year.
St. Vincent opened with standouts from her latest release including “Rattlesnake”, “Digital Witness”, and “Birth In Reverse”, plus Strange Mercy‘s “Cruel”. Breaking from her introductory robot gestures, the stage really came to life when Clark and bandmate Toko Yasuda started moonwalking in unison whilst playing tight guitar chords. The theatrical aspect of St. Vincent’s current show proved to be successful at keeping the audience’s attention, without ever becoming overly distracting.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Ms. Clark greeted the crowd… “and good evening others.” Clark maintained a loose narrative arc–part humor, part spiritual guidance–throughout the show by saying “you and I have something in common” and recounting childhood anecdotes about making wings out of garbage can lids and being punished for telling lies. Focusing mostly on songs from her new LP and 2011’s breakthrough release Strange Mercy, Clark also led her band through early St. Vincent favorites like “Laughing With A Mouth of Blood” and “Marrow” (no “Actor Out of Work”, however). She showed off her superior guitar shredding skills on songs like “Northern Lights”.
“Krokodil” is the one song that seems to have lost some of its bite through its live translation, but newer tracks like “Prince Johnny” and “Bring Me Your Loves” suit the stage remarkably well, with a perfectly executed false ending on “Regret”. Clark thanked Noveller for starting off the show with “beautiful music.” The solo project of Brooklyn-based guitarist and filmmaker Sarah Lipstate had opened the Saturday show with her singular brand of velvety guitar pedal drone.
After collapsing on the stage floor during St. Vincent’s “Krokodil” finale, Annie Clark returned to the stage for a solo encore of “Strange Mercy”. She introduced her backing band as Toko Yasuda, Daniel Mintseris, and drummer Matthew Johnson before concluding her encore with “Chloe In The Afternoon”, followed by typical closer “Your Lips Are Red” (from 2007’s Marry Me). Annie Clark has come a long way as a solo artist over the past seven years, setting the bar higher and higher with each of St. Vincent’s stunning live appearances.