“I think we have something in common, Houston.”
It’s a sentiment to which Annie Clark, who grew up in Dallas, wryly returned throughout the set, like a mantra. I can imagine, given her histrionic thrashing, that it’s comforting to reassure herself that we in the audience were no different from her. Backed by a talented three-piece band, Clark put herself on display in a manner reminiscent of pop idols like Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. As an art-rock idol, St. Vincent is confident and uncompromisingly unsettling—her outfit for most of the night was a short pink dress with giant deflated sleeves and a mess of red on the front that evoked both flowers and entrails. “Marrow” (from 2011’s Strange Mercy) reveled in its schizophrenic structure, bouncing between brooding lyrics describing body tissue and heavily distorted guitar solos that throbbed in time with the strobe lights as Clark spelled out what she wants from us: “H-E-L-P/help me.”
To balance these blunt pleas for support, St. Vincent used deliberately coarse-edged, staccato phrasing that mirrors her disjointed, wind-up doll dancing. Starting with “Rattlesnake,” the first track from her fourth solo album, St. Vincent, Clark’s anxious clockwork movement channeled the music’s contained chaos. Enacting the song’s autobiographical content, she moved around the stage as if searching for safety. Despite wanting to escape, she seemed to be on rails, shuffling in circles around the stage as she shook and her guitar wailed. Like us, the sounds she makes are often ugly, and, also like us, she can’t always find a way out of her own rut.
For those fortunate enough to attend David Byrne and St. Vincent’s joint show in October 2012, it was clear that Byrne’s fingerprints were all over St. Vincent’s display last night. Clark’s awkward, jerky shuffles, the way she choreographed everything from dance moves to head-to-head instrumental breaks with her black-clad backup guitarist, and the robotic arm movements are taken right out of The Talking Heads playbook.
Four albums in (five, counting her David Byrne collab Love This Giant) St. Vincent is a more powerful force than ever. As on the album cover for St. Vincent, where she sits atop a throne staring haughtily at the viewer, Annie Clark is ready to bare herself to our scrutiny. In her beautiful ballad “I Prefer Your Love,” it’s not clear to whom she addresses the assurance that “All the good in me is because of you” but I’d like to believe she’s thanking her audience for indulging her. Last night, the audience showed it was equally thankful to have her indulge them. It turns out that we do have something in common.