After a warm, seeping version of "Cruel" to start the show off, she even mentioned that she recognized most people from the last time she played St. Louis. It's the nature of her relationship with her fans: some ambiguous haze of stalker and stalked, but the stalked is in full, graceful control. She's always had a verbal and lyrical sureness and clarity, an uncanny sense of line and melody, an ear for jagging sounds; she's also beautiful, but with the release of her new album, "Strange Mercy," and her performance last night, Ms. Clark has perfected a dimension of sexiness as well.
As usual, Clark is endlessly tweaking the arrangements of her songs, the size and shape of her band. Last night, in the intimate dark and oscillating blues of the Old Rock House, St. Vincent was stripped down to two synthesizer players (one playing a Moog), a drummer (half his set digital, two sets of hi-hats), and Clark's vocals, guitar and pedals.
For all the words that are thrown at her playing and the band's sound as a whole -- wild, shredding, wailing, etc. -- it's rarely acknowledge how incredibly controlled, paced, tasteful it is. Clark has cited Steely Dan as one of her favorite bands and chief musical influences, and you can hear this in the gnashing funk and chatter of her guitar lines and how clearly her ideas come through in the crispness of the music.
Her live set was a testament to everything she does in the studio. Almost her entire set was from "Strange Mercy"; watching the songs live was like seeing their raw versions, their genesis, unadorned -- even "Marrow" and "Actor Out Of Work" from her previous album, "Actor," sounded like this -- and it fucking rocked. The sound throughout the set was muffled, under-the-sheets, almost placental, and this only lent to the weird edge of the songs. Drums were foggy, the synthetic bass bumped and pulsed louder than nearly everything else, her guitar never sounded like a guitar. Like listening to "There's A Riot Goin' On" or "Fresh," your ear searches for recognition in the pulses, but it only finds Sly; or in this case, Annie Clark.
Her voice cut through with surprising intimacy, even at her loudest moments. The new songs, especially "Cheerleader," "Surgeon" and "Dilettante," all worked flawlessly because this sonic arrangement is an extension of the new album. "Marrow" and "Actor Out Of Work," though well done, were a little faint, because the noise never quite came on. Restraint seemed a big part of the sound. Only on one song -- a cover of The Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good And Evil", which is maybe replacing the Beatles' "Dig A Pony" as her new go-to cover -- brought the angular, metallic shit that sounds so good on her previous albums.
That said, even if it never peaked, Clark crafted one of the most coherent sets I've ever seen. She didn't let the mood slip away. When she came back for an encore, leaving her guitar to sing "The Party" along with a sole synthesizer, no one in the room moved.