The proceedings tonight at London’s famous Brixton Academy kick off with a screening of The Birthday Party, a directorial debut for Annie Clark, better known as musician extraordinaire St. Vincent. The film is part of female-driven horror anthology feature XX which was released earlier this year and adds co-writing to Clark’s résumé alongside Roxanne Benjamin.
St. Vincent has been making waves the music world over, first hitting the scene as part of choral rocksters The Polyphonic Spree and going on to become a part of eclectic indie-folk man Sufjan Stevens’ band.
But it was her solo debut Marry Me in 2007 that had the critics swooning, even if the record didn’t perform well commercially. 2009’s Actor performed slightly better but it was 2011’s Strange Mercy that firmly put St. Vincent on the map.
2012 saw her collaborate with former Talking Heads man David Byrne on collaboration album Love This Giant, a well-received record and subsequent tour that opened the eyes of a wider world to the “happiness and madness” of St. Vincent while Annie Clark continued to remain largely a mystery.
Clark joined the remaining members of Nirvana, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, as one of the female voices (and guitarist), alongside Lorde, Joan Jett and Kim Gordon singing the group’s songs as they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Clark singing the late Kurt Cobain’s part on iconic Nevermind song Lithium.
Self-titled fourth album St. Vincent became her best performing yet in 2014, her new bleach-blond look a hit as she took her Digital Witness show on the road.
This month saw Annie Clark’s alter-ego return with Masseduction, Clark describing the title to Jools Holland on his Later… programme “we’re living in a crazy time with crazy leaders, so there’s the idea of seducing the masses. But there’s also my seduction. Am I seducing? Am I being seduced?” Going on to say “The theme of this record is Dominatrix at the mental institution”.
But tonight at the Brixton Academy is actually a show of three parts, the aforementioned film followed by two halves of a live show from St. Vincent. The first sees the enigmatic star, likened to music royalty such as Kate Bush, David Bowie and PJ Harvey, clad in a neon pink PVC swimsuit and thigh-high boots and rotating between various colours of signature Ernie Ball “St. Vincent” Music Man guitars standing far back on the vast Brixton stage stunning her audience to near silence and perfect stillness with 10 tracks from across her first four records.
Debut album Marry Me’s title track kicks off the night with particular highlights Actor Out Of Work from Actor and Cheerleader from Strange Mercy receiving huge cheers before reducing the crowd to quiet once more. Rattlesnake and Birth In Reverse from the 35-year-old’s 2014 self-titled record close out the first half of the show, a curtain closing in front of the star.
When the curtain re-opens, a huge screen is visible behind Clark’s mic riser, the Texas-native taking her time to return to stage, now clad in a metallic silver dress and accompanied by a bright yellow Music Man guitar and breaking straight into the first track from Masseduction Hang On Me while shrouded in darkness.
The lights brighten up for the album’s second cut Pills, the New York resident subsequently going on to perform the whole of her fifth album in sequence.
Tonight, unfortunately, is not the triumph many had hoped Clark would bring to the Brixton Academy. While there is colour and flare, our eyes are transfixed on the solo stage presence of St. Vincent, set far back, deep on stage.
There is more music in our ears than can be produced by the pitch-perfect St. Vincent and her immaculate guitar playing, but still the live energy, missteps and improvisations of a band are somewhat lacking, as is any interaction between artist and audience. This is as much theatre or “art” as music and does keep the attention of all 5,000 in attendance at this sold-out show, but as a live music experience, we feel somewhat removed from the pedestal-raised star.
Photo story of St. Vincent @ Brixton Academy by Kalpesh Patel on 17th October 2017.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate