My wife and I attended the St. Vincent concert in Nashville March 7th at Marathon Music Works. I'm relatively new to the Annie Clark fan club, a fringe fan over the years -- I liked a song here or there while just recently I circled back around for a closer listen. When I was checking for concerts a few weeks back, I saw she was playing Nashville and knew I had to attend. To make it more appealing, it was on a Friday night. So, my wife changed some plans, and off we went.
Since it was my first visit to the venue, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised; an incredible venue, the staff was professional and there were no hiccups getting parked or getting inside. We arrived a few minutes before 7, found parking easily for $5 in a funeral home parking lot right around the corner from the venue. The line to get in the building was long, maybe 200 or so waiting as we walked up, but we were frisked, wrists inked, and scanned in by 7:15. The venue, a converted warehouse, held 1500, although I suspect the crowd was a bit smaller. Speaking of the crowd, I'm not sure that I have seen as many knit caps, fedoras, brilliant bushy mustaches, Chuck Taylors, and horn rimmed glasses in one place. Surprisingly, lots of flannel, yet not one monocle. Draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, the doors opened at 7pm, opening act on the stage at 8pm with St. Vincent taking the stage at 9pm. As we walked in, we found ourselves just 4 rows deep just left of stage center. Many of the early arrivals swarmed around the merch table.
The opening act, Noveller, took the stage at 8pm. I'd never heard of the artist, a single guitarist, best described as art-house instrumentalist if I had to classify her sound, ambient might be a better description. Lovely tones, sparse, haunting, and she even pulled out a violin bow mid-set for some interesting sounds. But, she had the unenviable task of keeping the crowd entertained as they trickled in, got drinks and settled in before St. Vincent took the stage. Sadly, there were a few times when the din of the stage side assembled crowd, eclipsed Noveller.
After Noveller's set and after a bit of delay, it appeared one of the guitar techs had a problem, then, around 9:15, the lights dimmed, smoke swirled and St. Vincent took the stage. The crowd roared as a bright smiling young lady with a stiff grey mop of hair made her way to the center of the stage. To open the show, she performed the opening track from her new album, Rattlesnake, and my favorite. As she began to sing, I sensed she was a bit hoarse, or maybe she was fighting a cold, she sounded frail. But, I was wrong, all of that was forgotten mid-song, and as she jumped right into Digital Witness, what a set of lungs. Even the seemingly annoying vapid Valley Girl "yeah" I disliked when I first heard the song found a place in my heart. It fit, and I understood its use when I saw her perform.
She blitzed through 21 songs hardly pausing for a breath. She danced, hopped, writhed on the floor, and sang with wide-eyed glee and abandon while stunning the crowd with her incredible guitar playing. Head down with her shock of grey hair dancing along the guitar neck, her intensely focused guitar work was blistering and heavy in spots, while other times spare and light, filling all the spaces. A truly concerned artist turned performer. The setlist checked off all my must hears: Rattlesnake, Cheerleader, Marrow, Cruel, Regret, Your Lips are Red, and Strange Mercy. Then, ended the 1st set with the frenetic industrial-punky, Krokodil, now a huge favorite.
Part of her appeal to me are the stark contrasts she employs. It's the contrasts that shows how fearless she is in her craft, she has no recipe and tends to follow her own path. Start with a Disney opening, then barge in with some psychedelic fuzzy guitars, or, how a sweet synth-pop tune with falsetto vocals becomes manic and desperate in the dissonant guitar noise, or how a charming lullaby turns into a finger picking foot stomping rocker. Sprinkle a bit of a show tune here, opera there, fold in a little mid-80's Prince, drop in a enough Black Sabbath to spook, and then toss in some oddly disconcerting lyrics to taste. It's a lovely meal.