Friday, July 27, 2007

Live Review: St. Vincent - The Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL (7/23/07)

(Photo By Autumn Notter)

Click here to listen to St. Vincent perform on Minneapolis Public Radio.

Read Pitchfork's take on Marry Me here

I don't know where St. Vincent gets her dark side but god bless her for having it. It might seem easy to underestimate the negative emotions of Annie Clark's music - after all, she is a pixie-like 23-year-old with translucent skin and a penchant for writing jazzy, Beatles-esque melodies that skip around in your head the moment that you hear them.

But on the other hand, if we as listeners take for granted the fact that St. Vincent look so cute and non-threatening and that her music is so buoyant, it's probably easier for her to make her dark side much more subversive. That is, treating lines like the end of the refrain in "Now, Now" ("I'll make you sorry") or "Marry Me" ("We'll do like Mary and Joseph Did/Without The Kid") as throwaways, rather than direct threats. Furthermore, when she gets the crowd so involved in the show, as she did by having them clap the bossanova rhythm of "Human Racing," it becomes incredibly easy to be swayed by her charisma as a performer.

Then again, there was her introduction to her cover of "Bang Bang," in which she stated that the other side of love was murder. Before she got to that point, though, St. Vincent and her four-piece band (consisting of Clark on guitar, a bassist, a violinist, and a drummer) entered to a whimsical, ethereal instrumental in the style of the Beach Boys. From there, the group segued into a taut rendition of the waltz-like "Jesus Saves, I Spend."

It should be no surprise that an artist who creates an album as creative as Marry Me would re-arrange her weeks-old (at least, to the buying public at large) catalog, which she did with her next song, "Now, Now." On record, the bouncing guitar harmonics were recreated with a violin, giving the song an added bit of texture. The chaotic breakdown toward the song's end gave ample opportunity for St. Vincent to create a womb of sound, insulating the club with feedback and raucous noise.

From there, Clark went on to perform the title track of her album which, along with the "Across The Universe"-esque "All My Stars Aligned, is her most Beatles influenced song. Both songs were lovingly executed, with "Stars'" arrangement emphasizing the guitar more than on record.

But the 1-2 combo of "Your Lips Are Red" (the intro of which was made into a minimal, two-note punk riff) and "Paris Is Burning" were the highlights of the show, with the former devolving into a most unlikely marriage of prog-rock musicianship with Sonic Youth style feedback sprawl and the latter being flawlessly rendered.

Just when we in the crowd all thought it couldn't have gotten any better, St. Vincent took the stage and insisted that all the lights in the venue be turned off. She played a magical version of the Nico/Jackson Browne classic "These Days." If St. Vincent's not careful, her cover of a cover will become to her what Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" became to him.

Maybe it's not so much that St. Vincent has a dark side, rather that she doesn't like the negative or sardonic elements of her lyrics cloud the effervescence of her music. She certainly knocked us all out at the Empty Bottle with her grace and musicianship. But I don't think that any one would take anything, let alone her dark side, for granted after she gave us all such a great night worth of music.

(Jonathan Graef)

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