Live Music + Gig Reviews

St Vincent @ Brixton Academy, London

17 October 2017

St. Vincent

When St Vincent’s fifth record Masseduction landed a couple of weeks ago it was met with a slew of gushing reviews. Since her debut was released 10 years ago Annie Clark has slowly built a discography that has earned respect and affection from fans and critics alike. With her latest, she was praised for reaching new peaks of artistic brilliance for a record which she had previously promised would offer “sex and drugs and sadness”. With all that in mind, and safe in the knowledge that St Vincent shows have been historically excellent, it stood to reason that her Brixton set would be nothing but triumphant.

In lieu of a support act, the expectant crowd is presented with a short film directed by Clark. The Birthday Party is a comically macabre tale, and a slightly unusual, yet nevertheless enjoyable, start to the gig.

Dutifully bedded into the art-pop theme of the evening, the audience awaits to be dazzled by the woman herself. She appears through a curtain that opens just a touch to begin with, and she appears under a spotlight, like some sort of vaudevillian performer. The first few songs act as a fantastic tease, the curtain revealing a little more of the stage each time. By the time it’s fully opened, though, it merely exposes an empty stage.

Maybe it’s a little old-fashioned to assume that having paid a fair whack to witness this evening’s entertainment, one might expect a truly live experience? What was provided instead was Clark singing and playing along to a backing track. And if the big reveal was meant as some sort of joke, it feels a little disingenuous to mock your fans in such a fashion. But all involved have obviously saved a few quid that would have paid for a support act and musicians to bring Masseduction to a real-life situation, so that’s nice.

Still smarting from the confusion of it all, the crowd are treated to a string of favourites from Clark’s back catalogue in what will prove to be the first act. But even then the rigidity of her performance flattens the inherent joy of tracks like Cruel, Cheerleader and Birth In Reverse.

Following an interlude and costume change, she returns to the stage to deliver Masseduction in full. Technically (as far as her vocals and guitar playing go) she is faultless. Her latest record really proved to be a chance to explore what she could do with her voice, and those developments are replicated perfectly. Equally, her uniquely superb guitar playing is freed in a live situation. On the whole, her frequently magnificent shredding was a little lost on Masseduction, and it’s wonderful to hear it further to the fore at the Academy.

In exchange for a band, and minimal movement from Clark, a series of films accompanies each song. Artists use visual media all the time in live performance, often to great effect, but here it merely feels like a poor substitute for an engaging performance. For everything that’s striking and memorable visually, there’s very little evoked in the way of emotion. Her expressions in many of the films recall the art of Joan Cornellà, and the tragically gurning characters within them.

Annie Clark cuts a lonely figure on the stage, and whilst that is no doubt the point, the raw and powerfully candid emotion of her record is never revealed. New York is the closest she gets to achieving a connection, but it feels like too little too late. She finishes on the record’s final tune, Smoking Section, and with very little fanfare retreats to the wings, with no encore. St Vincent’s Brixton show offered nothing in the way of sex or drugs. But, granted, it did leave a lingering sadness.

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