Does anyone care that St. Vincent's Annie Clark is an awesome guitarist? Yeah, she's a beguiling, magnetic personality who writes beguiling, magnetic poppy post-punk songs (or punky post-pop songs?), whose voice, while not as strong as, say, Polly Harvey's, is instantly recognizable as her own. Her songs are rich and dynamic, and have the vibe of classic mid-period David Bowie, with their constant surprises and lyrical narratives. And, well, she sure is pretty.
But when she tackles that guitar? She stabs at it like a long lost member of Devo, hitting at it to make electric-jolt-chords; punching at it in jerky rhythm like unsung guitar hero Bob Mothersbaugh, poking and plotting and offering striking chords come alive. But then the next song she'll treat guitar like a whole other instrument, caressing it to make ethereal moans, kicking a pedal to provide Cocteau-Twins-washes. What she does with that thing is beautiful.
Last night at the El Rey, Clark and her four-piece backing band were in a good mood, even though the crowd was smaller than maybe anticipated. St. Vincent seemed genuinely happy to be in Los Angeles, with the singer/guitarist letting out a huge, man-melting smile as the curtain was lifted and she greeted us. “Your lips are red,” she declared as she began her song of the same name, immediately beginning to needle her way into our consciousness. “Your skin's so fair it's not fair,” she continued, then stabbed at her guitar to make it bark.
St. Vincent's sound bounced around; at times the music they created sounded straight out of the post-new wave 80s, when bands once wed to the guitar started experimenting with strings and horns. “Paint the black hole blacker,” she suggested in the great song “The Strangers,” from her new album, Actor, and she sounded positively goth. Not that she was morose; throughout the evening she talked with the crowd like they were in her kitchen.
Before going into “Marry Me John” (“….I'll be so good to you …”), she asked that the crowd provide hand claps. During a break in the song, Clark complimented LA on our rhythm skillz. “Not like New York,” she explained. “They totally f-ed it up.” She smiled, then added, “West coast!” That wasn't the only backhanded compliment she doled out. At the end of the concert she addressed us again: “Thank you very much, Los Angeles. We've been so happy to be here and so sad to go because …. San Diego is next.” Ouch. There's something to be said for being complimented by Clark: She says it like she means it. And regardless of what she's saying, or singing, or playing, it's delivered with an honesty that commands that you believe it.