Samir Chadha reviews St Vincent’s gig at O2 Academy Brixton
Most commentary on Annie Clark’s latest album, and its supporting tour, makes light of her recent relationship with Cara Delevigne. That period of over-the-top tabloid attention was the most we’d heard from the musician in the 3 years since her “big break” 2014 album, not to mention the fact that Delevigne features on the new album. There’s a lot more attention on her now — as I’m writing this I’m looking at an ad with her face on it — and she knows it.
There isn’t a support act tonight, our evening with Clark starts with the short horror film she directed and cowrote, “The Birthday Party”, and it only gets more theatrical from there.
Our show properly begins with a spotlight on a curtain that’s drawn just enough for us to see St Vincent in thigh-high patent pink boots as she starts the first act of the show: a tour through her back catalogue with her larger-than-life shadow looming over her. She’s then handed a guitar as she launches into Now, Now. Everything here is heavily staged and planned; Clark is the only musician on stage all evening, her movement across the stage is tracked by a spotlight, and the rotating cast of guitars are passed to her by members of her balaclava-wearing crew. A flash of light accompanies each “I” in Cheerleader, and she performs Strange Mercy lying curled up, centre stage. Banter between songs is kept to a minimum. The focus here is on the music, though she does chuckle after the “Yeahs” in Digital Witness.
After Birth in Reverse, the curtains are drawn again and we wait for the second act, left only with a zooming-in press photo for MASSEDUCTION. After an appropriately ominous wait, St Vincent returns after an outfit change and starts a full play through of the album. Every song has accompanying visuals on the screen behind her (she’s raised and centre stage for this era), mostly starring Clark herself, and she goes deftly from her dark guitar-pop, à la Los Ageless and Savior, to the haunting vocal-heavy Smoking Section, with one break to express her love for London. Despite the pop beats, the crowd barely dance; this is a show where you don’t want to miss a second. Potentially reactionarily to a focus on who she’s next to (“defamed by fame” in her own words), the evening is an affirmation of what Annie Clark is by herself, with no watering down. It’s about what she can be and do without anyone else, and it’s quite a lot.
Image credit: Samir Chadha