dAY FOR NIGHT HEADLINER ST. VINCENT EXHIBITS A charming duality
St. Vincent has always been two people to me, and it has nothing to do with the fact there’s Annie Clark the person and St. Vincent the persona.
The split occurs between the recorded music attributed to St. Vincent - five albums and one collaboration - and the performer who wows at festivals, as St. Vincent will this weekend as one of the headliners at Day for Night.
Both are compelling artists, and I find nothing to make me prefer one over the other. One, St. Vincent the album artist, often folds a paper boat and then sets it into the water where St. Vincent the performer guides it.
But that’s an interesting and rare dichotomy in music, perhaps facilitated by our culture’s general disinterest in recorded music. Once was the time artists made records and toured to plug them. These days, the tours are all that matter to most. But an interesting album can still lure a few of us suckers who like to buy a recording and play it.
So St. Vincent shows are rather spectacular. Clark comes across as hardwired for show-womanship. She put across a semirobotic entity who, despite an absence of anguished expression, also shreds on guitar like the face-twisting guy guitarists who seem poised to bust a gut doing it. Like David Byrne, with whom she made a record, she regards a concert space as a greater canvas than one that just accommodates sound. Clark presents her music as a full sensory experience.
And the guitar is an interesting pivot point. While it - or at least the way she plays it - has a starring role in the concert, on St. Vincent albums, Clark has rethought the guitar in ways only a few significant guitarists have since it became such a ubiquitous music cultural touchstone.
To listen to a St. Vincent album is to let go of the guitar as rhythmic driver or pyrotechnic devise. She treats the instrument not as a color but as a brush to be dipped in different colors. Sometimes it sounds like a keyboard. Often it sounds like a keyboard. Sometimes it sounds like a banshee awakened, and other times it grumbles more subtly. Robert Fripp is one player who comes to mind, but few other guitarists do, players operate with such an expansive hold on the instrument.
She’s capable of rocking traditionally, as her performance of “Lithium” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with two-thirds of Nirvana attests.
But she also found something different in that song that mixed pent-up angst and cathartic release. Her version was less cathartic but more subtly upsetting, befitting a song that seems to be about manic depressiveness, which has more than one permutation.
St. Vincent has been likened to David Bowie, which is easy and convenient. Another way of taking a male-centric industry and applying it to a modern female artist. The comparison isn’t unflattering though: It implies a certain musical stylistic and gender fluidity that is intriguing with renewed energy. She reminds me more of Brian Eno, who saw music not as a set of instruments applied to a song but rather a sum more important than any of its parts. Her latest album, “Masseduction,” speaks to that. It’s not my favorite of her records but the one that holds my attention rapt these days.
But there I went and compared her to another guy, when in actuality, Clark as St. Vincent has really done a marvelous job cordoning off her own musical space. It’s weird and sad and sexy and joyful and curious, and those are the elements that permeate both the concert and albums.
Where St. Vincent becomes one entity, instead of two.