Home > Uncategorized > Paint the Black Hole Blacker: St. Vincent, 2009.05.21

Paint the Black Hole Blacker: St. Vincent, 2009.05.21

St. Vincent/Pattern Is Movement

First Unitarian Church
Philadelphia, PA

I was first exposed to the music of Annie Clark in early 2007, months before her debut album as St. Vincent, Marry Me, suddenly and unexpectedly stole countless indie rock hearts (mine included). She was opening for John Vanderslice on a tour preparing for the release of his Emerald City album. Going into the show, all I knew about her was that she had previously played with both Sufjan Stevens and the Polyphonic Spree, and that she was apparently some kind of guitar prodigy. When she took the stage, I was intrigued by her nimble fretwork, her use of effects pedals to create layers of texture from a single electric guitar, her steady rhythm-keeping by way of a pedal-operated kick drum sample,  and her idiosyncratic songwriting style. Of course, although I would like to downplay this, the fact that she was unbelievably gorgeous did not hurt matters. By the end of her set, when she played a self-assured version of Jackson Browne’s oft-covered “These Days,” I had fallen completely in love. I immediately purchased her tour EP (happily featuring the aforementioned Jackson Browne cover) and decided to make it a point to see her every time she came to town.

I missed her every time she came to town.

In April 2008, I got my first taste of what her live show sounded like when augmented with a full band when she played the PLUG awards in NYC, playing a brief two-song set comprising “Now, Now” and “Your Lips are Red.” Where before her performance had been marked with precision, complexity, and a graceful patience, there was now an air of danger, recklessness, and ferocity. I was very excited to see a full set by St. Vincent the band.

Once again, I missed them every time they came to town.

Chris from Pattern is Movement

To cut  long story short (too late), the release of Actor, the second St. Vincent album, quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year so far, and when the band’s tour stopped at the First Unitarian basement in Philadelphia, I made damn sure I was there. Local heroes Pattern Is Movement opened; I had seen them once before, ironically, opening for North Carolina band The Physics of Meaning, which is the main gig of Daniel Hart, who also plays violin and guitar in St. Vincent. Pattern Is Movement is a 2-piece band – drums and keyboards – marked by gentle vocals that reach into the upper register of the vocalist’s range and odd time signatures with unpredictable and seemingly random changes. They kind of sound like a less aggro Dismemberment Plan, perhaps. Daniel Hart came out and played violin with them for a song or two – though, oddly, I didn’t remember them being a two-piece last time I saw them. My impression of them, however, was exactly the same as it had been the last time I saw them: although it was pretty music and definitely was a refreshing change from your standard “indie rock” band, I found that they had sort of worn out their welcome with me after about 20-25 minutes. Their set lasted for nearly 50 minutes this particular night, which was just far too long to hold my interest. The highlight was a D’Angelo cover.

I was excited to see the array of instruments being set up for St. Vincent’s set – clarinet! Saxophone! Flute! Fender Jaguar! (Seriously, does EVERY band have a Jaguar these days?) Plus the typical drums, bass, and keyboards, as well as Annie’s two guitars and trademark double microphone stand. From the opening salvo of “The Strangers” and “Save Me From What I Want” – also the first two songs on Actor – the band made it clear that although they were perfectly capable of recreating the textures and layers of the studio recording on stage, they were not interested in stopping there. The mannered, structured, orchestrated noise that ever so politely bruises the lush studio arrangement on records becomes an entirely different beast on the concert stage – there is a disquieting, threatening quality to the guitar outbursts here, a palpable physical violence in both Ms. Clark’s guitar playing and her occasional vocal outbursts (such as during the performance of single “Actor Out of Work,” which on record relies on a building tension that never resolves itself into an explosion – in performance at the Church, Clark suddenly shrieked “I think I’M FUCKING MAD!” so loudly, it ended up being the only moment of the main set that caused my recording to clip, and genuinely startled me at the time).

It was a long show – at 74 minutes, it was definitely much longer than I would have expected from an artist with two albums to her name, neither one particularly long – but it was well paced and never once felt boring or like it was dragging. The setlist was, as one would expect, heavy on the excellent Actor material, but almost to a fault – although Annie promised to mix in Marry Me material and make it a “greatest hits show,” the band only played three songs from the debut, and had already played two of those by the time she made that promise. And of course, the nostalgia lover in me would have loved to have heard her perform “These Days” either in addition to or even instead of her delicate solo reading of “Oh My God.” But these are all minor criticisms. Annie Clark has assembled a fantastic group of musicians to flesh out her arrangements, and they seem to share a hive mind of sorts. Impossibly tight and precise, the musicianship combined with Ms. Clark’s vibrant personality, witty humor, and uniquely subtle yet intense stage presence make for a compelling and entertaining live show that everyone should experience given the chance. I will definitely be in the crowd the next time Ms. Clark and crew pass through.


The Strangers
Save Me From What I Want
Now, Now
Actor Out of Work
Marry Me
Oh My God
The Bed
Laughing With a Mouth of Blood
Black Rainbow
Just the Same But Brand New
The Party
Your Lips Are Red 

More photos can be found at my Flickr account.

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