LIVE: St. Vincent @ Upstate Concert Hall, 3/7/15

Review by Greg Haymes

Last month, St. Vincent (real name: Annie Clark) snagged the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. “Alternative” is, of course, one of the most nebulous genres that the music industry has ever coined, but in her sold-out Nippertown debut at Clifton Park’s Upstate Concert Hall earlier this month, St. Vincent certainly seemed to be the embodiment of it – whatever the hell it is.

Backed by a versatile trio, nearly every song in her 18-song set was a mash-up of rock and pop styles, from sludge metal to dance pop to neo-new wave, constantly confounding listener expectations. The controlled chaos of her harrowing final encore of “Your Lips Are Red” packed a gritty industrial punch, but just when you settled in for the metal-esque assault, the music stopped cold, and St. Vincent and keyboardist Toko Yasuda chimed in with surprisingly sweet vocal harmonies, and then she ventured out into the audience with her guitar, crowd-surfing over the heads of her fans.

The ballad-ish “Prince Johnny” rode atop an easy-going hip-hop shuffle, but when it came time for the solo, St. Vincent unleashed a vicious volley of stun-gun guitar riffing.

And so it was throughout her 105-minute show. Just when you thought you knew what was coming next, she took a sharp left-hand turn, leaving your expectations in the dust. The languid ballad “I Prefer Your Love” (which found St. Vincent sensually reclining on a platform during a solo of a single guitar note note repeated over and over) was followed by the starkly minimalist “Rattlesnake,” built over little more than a fuzzed-out buzz-saw bass riff. With the provocative opening lyric, “I spent the summer on my back,” and the lush James Bond Theme-like backing, “Surgeon” broke the musically mood with series of repeated phrases that sounded almost like a phonograph needle skipping on vinyl. This was truly subversive pop…

Bedecked in a sparkling silver-sequined top that could have been culled from an old ABBA wardrobe trunk (and augmented by top-flight, theater-worthy lighting), St. Vincent bolstered her chameleon-like vocals with Adrian Belew-like elephant-roar guitar playing and quirky, choreographed stage movements reminiscent of David Byrne.

Norwegian singer Jenny Hval’s half-hour opening set was more performance art than concert, an intriguingly lo-fi performance (nothing wrong with that) accompanied by three backing musicians and videos by Hudson filmmaker Zia Anger. Hval tried hard to sell it, but dynamic as it was, it was too subtle for the room, and most of the five art songs were buried beneath the audience hub-bub waiting for the headliner. Too bad…

Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “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 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.”

Bring Me Your Loves
Digital Witness
Every Tear Disappears
I Prefer Your Love
Actor Out of Work
Year of the Tiger
Huey Newton
Prince Johnny
Birth in Reverse
Strange Mercy (solo)
Chloe in the Afternoon
Your Lips Are Red

1 Comment
  1. Paul says

    St Vincent was unreal, incredible, perfect.

    If Jenny Hval wanted to be taken seriously by the audience maybe, you know, don’t have a woman behind a screen dangling a banana over another woman trying to get at it like a Halloween party game.

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