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St. Vincent - Wiltern - March 21, 2014

St. Vincent

Timothy NorrisSt. Vincent

St. Vincent
Wiltern Theater
3-21-14

The sound that started the show was pretty painful. A punishing, chest-rattling scourge of bass dragged on for several seconds after the house lights went down, pumping momentary anxiety into the hearts of those who'd misplaced their earplugs. But it was just Annie Clark, the mastermind behind St. Vincent, demanding presence. "To maximize your enjoyment of the show," a computer-processed voice announced after the alert tone stopped, "please refrain from digitally capturing your experience. Thank You, St. Vincent."

It was a clever reference to "Digital Witness," the single from Clark's new self-titled album, which sends up social media culture's emphasis on documenting experiences rather then, well, experiencing them. She played the song second - the album opener "Rattlesnake" was first - which was surprisingly close to the top of the set for a current single. Maybe not, though, when you consider St. Vincent is now touring on the foundation of a five-album canon, one in collaboration with David Byrne. His odd influence was all over the performance, which alternated between the rigors of art rock and the catharsis of a dance party, Talking Heads style. In any case, the warning didn't work. People had their phones out as much as at any other show.

St. Vincent with bassist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda

St. Vincent with bassist/keyboardist Toko Yasuda

Their heroine Clark stood at the center of a stellar four-piece band, statuesque in a structured black romper and fishnets, a stark contrast to her newly white hair and ever-porcelain skin. She commanded their attention nimbly with the strange voice and guitar virtuosity of her rhapsodic, seemingly ADHD-driven music. Songs whirled wildly from gentle melodies to shots of grindcore-like guitar riffage, heightened in the live setting by Clark's on-point chops. During "Bring Me Your Loves," she shredded alongside her bass/moog player, Toko Yasuda, while they pointed their arms and stomped in choreographed unison, like dark, deranged cheerleaders from a Winona Ryder-era movie.

It was all very angular, so much so that when the dreamy ballads came around, they washed over the audience like a soothing salve. For the tender "I Prefer Your Love," Clark unhooked her instrument and laid down on the first tier of a platform pyramid upstage, as if singing from a fainting couch. A few songs later, she scaled the structure for her turn as pure guitar goddess, delivering theremin-like licks relentlessly, climbing higher with each number, first "Cheerleader" then "Prince Johnny," all the way at the top. At the end of the majestic mini-set, she lowered her body down to the stage level, stopping to grind on each step by strobe light, until she was again at stage level. "Hello my Los Angeles friends!" she shouted, waking us up from our reverie abruptly.

St. Vincent - Wiltern - March 21, 2014

Everything was abrupt: Loud to soft, slow to fast, dark to bright, high to low, dissonant to straight-ahead, intricate to plain.

There were so many parts of the show where you would've loved to dance, but Clark never let you hold down the same groove long enough, so most audience members stood dumbfounded whipping their heads around in confused bliss.

Even Clark herself seemed to experience controlled disorientation at times. On the last song of the set, she ditched her instrument again and flailed around as if possessed, until she collapsed on the floor in a heap. The stage went black.

She returned for an encore in a gothier outfit: big shoulders, high-waisted short skirt. During a severe, almost industrial version of the old favorite "Your Lips Are Red," the stage alternated between steady red light and wildly strobing blue, a final taste of Clark's unrelenting oscillation.

Personal Bias: I prefer Annie as a brunette.

The Crowd: People who have a crush on the performer and the people who have a crush on those people.

Random Notebook Dump: Clark is a dork made good.

Set list:
Rattlesnake
Digital Witness
Cruel
Birth In Reverse
Regret
Laughing With A Mouthful of Blood
I Prefer Your Love
Pieta
Every Tear Disappears
Surgeon
Cheerleader
Prince Johnny
Year of the Tiger
Marrow
Huey Newton
Bring Me Your Loves
Northern Lights
Krokodil

Encore:
Strange Mercy
The Bed
Your Lips Are Red

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