St. Vincent | 10.01.09

live_st-vincent.gifThe songs she and her bandmates play are undoubtedly rock ‘n’ roll, with Clark’s fuzzy, thundering guitar laid over hard driving beats.

The Firebird, St. Louis

How to classify the music of Brooklyn quintet St. Vincent? Fronted by (and essentially a pseudonym for) singer/songwriter Annie Clark, St. Vincent’s sound defies convention in a number of ways. Clark doesn’t fit any general "chick singer" category (coffeehouse folk muse; hard rock maven; pop/R&B queen). The songs she and her bandmates—a drummer and three multi-instrumentalists who collectively play bass, keys, clarinet, flute, saxophone, violin and guitar—play are undoubtedly rock ‘n’ roll, with Clark’s fuzzy, thundering guitar laid over hard driving beats. But they are also something much more, and much different, than what that easy classification includes.

Taking a break from a national tour opening for Andrew Bird, St. Vincent performed a high-energy set at the Firebird for a large, enthusiastic crowd that included members of Tulsa-born Clark’s family. Seeming genuinely surprised at the size and energy of the crowd ("I expected like six people to be here, and for one of those to be my mother"), Clark led St. Vincent through an hour of music, with a heavy focus on songs from the band’s latest album, Actor.

Her sultry and somehow otherworldly voice (reminiscent of Bjork, but so much warmer and accessible, even as it kept its aloof distance) found a perfect counterpoint in the dirge-y, haunting flute and clarinet of "The Strangers." A solo cover of The Beatles’ "Dig a Pony" cast the song in a new light, with Clark’s voice and guitar making it an atmospheric plea for the affections of another. "Marrow," Actor‘s dark and rollicking single, contrasted Clark’s desperate lyrics (H-E-L-P me/ Help me/ Help me) and chaotic guitar with a nearly funky saxophone. The set’s closer, "Your Lips Are Red" from St. Vincent’s first album Marry Me, built to a roaring cacophony that slowly faded to the plaintive sound of a single violin. "Save Me From What I Want" and "Actor Out of Work" highlighted Clark’s dark, wicked sense of lyrical humor.

So maybe the classification of St. Vincent’s is that it is, musically and lyrically, a study in semi-comfortable, very deliberate and wholly satisfying juxtaposition: pathos and humor, rock and classical, roar and whimper. But, really, who cares about classifications anyway? Whatever it is, it works, and it’s a safe bet that when St. Vincent returns to play this city, the crowd will be even more enthusiastic-and bigger.| John Shepherd

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