OUT of all the hyperbole and PR spin about transcendent gigs and should’ve-been-there moments, St Vincent’s show at Electric Picnic 2013 with David Byrne is always recalled — a real sickener as I missed it.
Annie Clark turned out to be the art-rock pioneer’s greatest sidekick since his Talking Heads days — matching his flair for choreography, wry wit and guitar playing that bypasses any stale blues-based dead ends. As a breakout album of sorts, the pair’s 2012 album Love This Giant showcased Clark’s handle on pop that could be at once playful and intricate — helped by the electronic arrangements, brass and marching band touches that made it into the live show.
It wasn’t until last year’s self-titled fourth album that the Texan tore away from her undeserved quirky indie slot and crossed over as a full-on futurist avant-pop guitar god, even winning a Grammy for best alternative album. Lead single Digital Witness led the audacious charge, with its marching band electro-pop scoring one of the most striking choreographed videos of the year.
All over the album Clark wasn’t afraid to throw some brains and behind her Prince-like metallic funk licks and uncharted guitar tics and squalls. Rattlesnake is a true story about a naked encounter with the said reptile in the Texan desert, Birth In Reverse goes from humdrum masturbation to leaving out the bins, and Huey Newton is based on a hallucination of the Black Panthers founder appearing to her.
Not that Clark’s various bends in the musical road have been in any way conventional. She started out in 2000 as a member of white robe-wearing orchestral pop crew the Polyphonic Spree, a cult act in all respects. As well as the Spree’s psychedelic 20-strong clan, Clark joined Sufjan Stevens’ touring band around the time of his landmark Illinoise album in 2005, before forming her own band in 2006.
Sufjan’s lush orchestration seemed to influence Clark’s arrangements on her 2007 debut album Marry Me, which sugar-coated her avant-garde moments. The albums Actor and Strange Mercy distorted these sickly edges with angular electronics and frantic rhythm changes, and both ended up on many end of year lists in 2009 and 2011.
In an interview last year, Clark said: “I think that I make pop music and I don’t mean ‘pop music’ as dirty words. I love pop music. It’s always the most interesting place — this weird world where music is accessible and likeable but cloaked in things that are strange and left field.”
It’s this admission, along with her spectacular live show, that proves St Vincent is an artist who’s not afraid to hit pop at a right angle. Her shows are master-classes in considered elegance, poise and dramatic interpretative dance — robotic tics, flailing limbs and skyward poses. She even fakes her own death on occasion, Ziggy Stardust style.
Another should’ve been there moment came a few weeks ago when Annie joined post-punk legends Wire on stage as part of their Drill Festival in Chicago — headbanging like an animatronic Angus Young and literally tearing her guitar apart. Expect plenty of that over the weekend.
And expect plenty of carefully considered spoken word too — she’s known for well-rehearsed speeches and crowd motivation. This aspect can only evolve with her new Mixtape Delivery Service show on Apple’s new Beats 1 radio service. And with her first compilation an electro-pop mix for a chosen 11-year-old girl, she’s already got a new generation enthralled.
Main photo by Jay Janner
Original version in Irish Daily Star