Wednesday, August 20, 2014

St Vincent at The Cambridge Junction, 19th August 2014

Gotta make way for the homo superior”.  Amidst a din of clattering guitars, maniacal whoops and digital noise, Bowie's words ran laps around my head.  Why?  Because I'm pretty damn sure Annie Clark is the next stage in human evolution.  On stage she mixes up slithery, chaotic punk rock androgyny with dance moves like an android struggling to break free of its programming – all underscored by guitar virtuosity that's as gobsmacking as it is effortless.

As 2014 began I was already pretty appreciative of St Vincent.  Their 2011 album Strange Mercy had rolled around in rotation for a couple of weeks upon release and their 2012 David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant had tickled all my tastes.  Then I heard their latest release, the eponymous St Vincent.  Hot-shit-god-damn what an album!  Shot through with haunting, cryptic vocals that combine the domestic, the technological and weirdly erotic (“Oh what an ordinary day.  Take out the garbage, masturbate.”) I was hooked.  

Then at Glastonbury I finally saw them.  They were up against stiff competition, Jon Hopkins, Disclosure, Jack White and the outstandingly fun Dolly Parton, but emerged by an inch as the best thing I saw all weekend.  After a horde of fey young men sitting around mournfully plucking at acoustic guitars and warbling about their feelings, St Vincent functioned as musical electro-shock therapy.  As Clarke dove from the stage and thrashed around on the muddy floor, fingers a-blur on the fretboard, fizzling with manic alien energy I fell a tiny bit in love.

The day I got back from the festival I got online to see where she was playing in the UK next.  Cambridge?  A little far from my usual stomping grounds but fine, whatever.  It was worth the trip.  It would have been worth going to Mars.  At times I thought I was on Mars. Annie Clarke occupies the stage with supreme confidence – her every motion radiating style, every idiosyncratic lyric spilling out of her like she's carved a hole in her head and let her thoughts run rampant.

In person she's some fucked up hybrid of all my loves - like someone's stuffed my favourite musicians into the telepods from Cronenberg's The Fly - the woozy electro lyricism of Bjork with the guitar skills of Prince and the eccentricity and self-assured weirdness of Kate Bush.  Wearing a dress covered in sequinned eyes and brace-toothed mouths (all bleeding) and moving in a way that suggests she's communicating secret codes it's difficult to take my eyes from her.  Standing pressed against the front row centre I fool myself into thinking she's often staring right at me, making me feel like a deer caught in a hunter's spotlight.  

My highlights are all songs from her most recent album.  Digital Witness is elegant and precise, a circus stomp pah-rump paean to the blurred lines between fleshy reality and the electronic world.  To hear Bring Me Your Loves live is to tumble down a mountain in a skip full of broken synthesisers, her guitar sounding like an old modem screeching down a phone line, the song punctuated with killer, crunchy-as-hell riffs.  Best is Huey Newton with its hallucinatory painkiller lyrics.  Midway through there's a bass drop so fierce that Skrillex stares on with envious eyes, and Clarke launches into a guttural stream of consciousness about “fatherless features, you motherless creatures” and “the pop and the hiss in the city of misfits”.  The fluids in my body are fizzling with bass, strobes are threatening an early epileptic end and once again, she seems to be singing these words right at me.

Being stage front for a show like this is like chewing through a high voltage cable.  My musical tastes tend towards the energetic and pounding, but here even the slower, more emotional songs reek of majesty.  Temporarily shorn of her guitar, Clarke mounts the giant pink steps at the rear of the stage and poses like a renaissance painting. She's illuminated in bright primary colours, singing softly through Prince Johnny and I Prefer Your Love – delivering them like torch songs from the year 2200.  

So yeah – I had a pretty goddamn great time.  St Vincent feel tailored to me in particular, though given the rapturous reception the band got from Cambridge I suspect everyone feels this sensation, just as I'm sure they all felt like Clarke was singing directly at them too.  The climax of the concert is the epic Your Lips Are Red – a Class A freakout of clattering, punished guitars and a band going bonkers.  Clarke climbs into the audience and starts grabbing people's camera, snapping pictures and grinning  madly.

And with that she was gone.  St Vincent have had a stratospheric rise in my estimations this year; landing right on the list of bands that I will pull out all the stops to see; regardless of price, location of time.  Right now Annie Clarke is at the top of her game; she's Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon, she's Dylan at Newport Folk, she's Hillary on Everest. Go and see her, dammit.

First two pictures courtesy of Matt Thorpe (, last crap one courtesy of my cameraphone.

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