April 5th, 2014
Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
With each album, St. Vincent aka Annie Clark has further cemented herself as an artist worth paying attention to. Her latest self-titled album sounds like nobody but herself and each album has gotten increasingly artful. Thanks to the Riviera Theatre, Jam Productions, and the wonderful world that is Twitter, I landed two free tickets to see her as she strolled through Chicago. While her latest tour is no doubt her most carefully crafted and choreographed solo show to date, what really makes her latest show interesting is Clark turning into a bonafide guitar god.
Like her latest album, St. Vincent’s latest tour borrows some tricks from her time with David Byrne on their collaboration album Love This Giant and subsequent tour. She has added the sort of lighting and shadow effects Byrne used with Talking Heads, playful choreographed dance moves to add some flair, and even a broad-shouldered suit for the encore that reminds me of Byrne’s Stop Making Sense encore suit. Byrne’s world-famous showmanship has clearly rubbed off onto Clark, and her show is better for it.
But what makes St. Vincent’s latest show special is her finally spreading her guitar wings. Clark has always been good for a few mind-bendingly creative guitar solos that make you wonder how in the world a six-stringed instrument is making that sound, but this latest tour brings a unique guitar solo in nearly every other song. And not just your modulated-funky solos that St. Vincent is known for: now she’s vamping like Eddie Van Halen at the close of “Rattlesnake”, giving a bluesy solo Hendrix would be proud at the end of “Prince Johnny”, and delivering a totally alien guitar sound on “Bring Me Your Loves”. Annie Clark has been a brilliant guitar player since she performed “Wind Cries Mary” at age 15, but it’s great to see her now fully leverage that talent for the crowd’s enjoyment.
Clark reached back to her first three albums for her usual showstoppers “Marrow”, “Your Lips Are Red”, “Northern Light”, and all-out punk rocker “Krokodil”, but the biggest highlight for me was seeing her new material live for the first time. If you have never seen St. Vincent live, all of her material gets spikier, heavier, and even more dynamic, and new songs like “Birth in Reverse”, “Huey Newton”, and “Every Tear Disappears” were no exception. My love for these songs definitely increased when the night was over.
Finally the most noteworthy highlight of the night was St. Vincent’s cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium”. Clark’s four-piece band excels at all sorts of styles and sounds, but it felt especially on target with “Lithium”, with the drums and grunge mood being just right.
My only real complaint on the night was Clark’s arty stage banter that invited silly heckling and seemed to leave the audience in the strange place. I usually always enjoy Clark’s humorous and gracious banter, but the themed banter to her latest tour left me a bit cold. Otherwise there has never been a finer time to see St. Vincent, and she has quickly become one of the must-see live acts of today.