"I think we have a couple of things in common," Annie Clark (better known as the seismic force behind St. Vincent) chirped to a crowd at Lawrence's Liberty Hall last night. Having ravaged her voice during the prior song "Cruel" to capture the abandonment of "so they took you and they left you," the light banter was a welcome break. But the opening up took a sharp 45 degree turn, as each shared experience Clark listed became more and more specific. By the time her final commonality came up, it was clear Clark was talking about herself. Even in opening up, Clark couldn't help but obfuscate.
Though that lesson should've been clear from the first wobbly beat of opener "Rattlesnake". Rather than step straight to the microphone Clark mechanically danced in place, relishing every sharp herk and jerk. When her voice does eventually sound its sullen and confused; wondering aloud "am I the only one in the only world?" Instead of tackling the question head on, Clark opted to run away on the back of a frenetic, gut busting guitar solo. Clark's decision to let her guitar do the talking became a common occurrence on the night. When she found herself being carried off by "Surgeon"'s electronically treated strings to an indignant silence from a former lover, she abolished that silence with a solo where hammered-on notes recalled a short-circuit. "Birth in Reverse" staved off the aforementioned "Cruel"'s malevolent tone with a guitar strut. Before anyone could overstay their welcome in Clark's "cosmic eternal party line" she was shooing them away with electronic histrionics.
And if Clark's fretwork failed to keep the wolves at bay, her physical acrobats were more than up to the task. While Clark's guitar prowess deserves to be celebrated, her commanding stage-presence is equally laudable. In the King Crimson meets Timbaland groove of "Digital Witness" she adroitly conveyed the zombie-ism of the Social Media age with her own disaffected "yahs." Each time a dead-eyed utterance spilled out, you could hear a mouse clicking to another profile. St. Vincent standout "I Prefer Your Love"'s warm synth swoons gave Clark a bed to lie down upon. Sprawling out across the on-stage staircase, Clark became a 40s lounge singer, albeit one well-versed in futurism and sorcery.
Such sorcery was in full-effect for "Every Tear Disappears", which had Clark contorting to right angles to deliver the sagely advice "a smile is more than showing teeth." When she openly interrogated "what about the pain?" you felt it yourself. "Prince Johnny"'s need to love yourself before you can love another seemed untenable as Clark collapsed to the floor and began to writhe around like Samara from The Ring. Clark previously commented on the song saying, ""Prince Johnny" is about a mixture of compassion and hopelessness that you feel for a friend who’s being very self-destructive, but you also know that you can’t save them, but you can’t cast any judgment because you’re equally self-destructive," and that desperation was clear with every wriggle. Finally, the schizoid vocals of "Bring Me Your Loves" were an ideal companion to Clark's frantic mind that was hung up on a former bf's belittlement. To exercise those relationship demons, she thrashed about the stage once more though it all felt in vein by the time the stage went dark. Physical aggression can't cure mental anguish.
However, anguish is best captured with little to no frill. Strange Mercy's agonizing title-track delivered a masterclass in stunning minimalism. Perched atop her digital ziggurat, Clark had only her guitar and a solitary spotlight to accompany her. There was no need for flailing guitar chords or twisting movements to highlight the desperation of telling someone "when you see me, wait." The crowd was silent as Clark snuck out to be with the lost boys she was chasing. For all of her obfuscation, Clark arrived at a desire we can all relate to: the desire to transcend your surroundings, to escape.
2. "Digital Witness"
4. "Birth in Reverse"
6. "Laughing with a Mouth of Blood"
7. "I Prefer Your Love"
9. "Every Tear Disappears"
12. "Prince Johnny"
13. "Year of the Tiger"
15. "Huey Newton"
16. "Bring Me Your Loves"
17. "Northern Lights"
19. "Strange Mercy"
20. "Your Lips Are Red"