St Vincent, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London


Holly Williams
Tuesday 28 February 2012 11:21

“I spent the summer on my back...” What an opening line. But it somehow sets the tone: Annie Clark – aka St Vincent – may be the most sexual guitar player I've ever seen, male or female.

On record, her blend of hooks, lushly breathy vocals, and swirled up synths is great; live, it's completely captivating – and rather a shock, for Clark is far, far more of a virtuoso guitar player than I'd realised. Within just the opener, 'Surgeon', she moves from picking a complicated, syncopated rhythm to chewing and shredding the hell out of it. And the squirming things she does with that tremolo arm – well it's just dirty, frankly.

She may be dressed in heels and hot pants, but this is far from a frontwoman's coquettish posing and pouting. Clark totally owns it. Her performance feels powerfully, viscerally genuine – while she's technically crisp and concise, with masterful vocals, she's physically all over the place, spasmodically tossing her curls, twitching her whole body over a particularly emphatic twang. Her bandmates, two keyboard and synthesiser players and a drummer - all correspondingly snappy – keep well to the back. And throughout, her violent self-expression is matched by a light show, chaotically swooping and strobing.

The set is dominated by songs from last year's Strange Mercy album; a vehement rendition of 'Cheerleader' sees Clark trotting and stamping like a matador, while 'Cruel' is so addictive a number, even on record, that a crowd member literally begs her to “give me cruelty!” Then there's the title track, which begins like some eerie, darkly grooving child's lullaby, Clark coaxing a music-box tone out of her guitar, before pent-up energy bursts out as she tussles with the instrument, singing desperately, “if I ever meet the dirty policeman who roughed you up... no, I don't know what.” There's certainly a strange violence to it all.

St Vincent close with a drawn out, wigged out version of an early song, 'Your Lips are Red'. Clark's silky vocals are interspersed with a solo smashing of drums, before a synth-led manic melody breaks in, with her sawing along on guitar. This builds until, suddenly, Clark is crowd surfing, while still playing that guitar (seems she's spending the winter on her back too). This continues, frantically, fantastically, for some minutes before she scrambles on stage and goes for a big finish. Hail, hail, rock'n'roll... and all hail it's newest saint, St Vincent.

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