Annie Clark, known as St. Vincent, played her far-out set to a sold-out Upstate Concert Hall Saturday night.
St. Vincent has introduced a new sound for sure. The songs are structured traditionally: they follow familiar chord progressions, she sings a verse or two and then the chorus, and a drummer keeps a steady beat. But Saturday night the tone and attack of the electronics, and its pulsating mix, bored into the hall like a brand new sound.
She opened with “Rattlesnake,” an explosion of a song. Then jumped into “Digital Witness” and followed with “Cruel.” The songs were quick, intense and full of surprises, even if you were familiar with them.
Few danced to the driving beats. Clark mocked a robotic dance during the intro of “Prefer Your Love,” but otherwise she barely moved and never moved spontaneously or what felt to be naturally. On this song, she put down her guitar to sing and assumed a few stiff poses through the song, including lying on her back and rising slowly.
She played guitar through most of the show with a clean, metal-rock sound, creating a visceral tone. During the more maniacal moments, it was hard to tell which part she was playing. The keyboard, synthesizer, guitar and bass mashed into such unfamiliar electronica that you couldn’t always decipher which was which, despite its distinct clarity inside the sound. And you couldn’t imagine the songs any other way.
Mostly her guitar playing was raw and unmistakable, as in “Birth in Reverse.” Her guitar solos never followed any musical sense. The goal seemed to communicate an emotion, at one point reaching a sense of hysteria. Sometimes, the song would just end when the guitar stopped abruptly, and that was that and it made sense for that moment.
She paused between songs twice to recite odd, literary one-liners about our commonalities — some funny, some off the mark, and always awkward in tone. She identified traits we shared like a bottom lip that curled weirdly, an attempt to fly as a kid using cardboard that always led to injury. We’ve all spent “an afternoon googling Soviet bus stops. … We are all brutalized by our human ignorance,” she said to end one monologue. “We will never give up hope.”
She followed with “Year of the Tiger,” then “Cheer leader,” maybe the best song of the night.
She closed the show with the uptempo “Bring Me Your Loves,” a rocker by most definitions, though it’s hard to call her rock. The packed crowd danced here. She played “Your Lips Are Red” for the final encore.
She mentioned, during band introductions, how the “beautiful strange music” might hit you in the “lower to mid chakra,” or “rip your face off.” While St. Vincent wasn’t always musical — at least not in a traditional sense — she was always theatrical, and always intense. Hard to imagine this show, say, 10 years ago. She offered us a peek into tomorrow’s sound today.
Norwegian native Jenny Hval opened the show with a dark, ghostly set that was more hypnotic effects than song. Alone with her voice and piped-in synthesizer and booming bass, she sang in the upper ranges, called out some quick yells, and at one point held a wild, prolonged full scream for a few bars that was part music and part mania. There were few moments with a tempo, and the crowd, which talked loudly through the set, was not yet ready for the attention the music demanded.
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